Bruckner: Symphony No 1 / Sawallisch

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The tray card to this CD claims that “Wolfgang Sawallisch ensures that Bruckner’s massive sonorities remain light and spacious, with the result that the composer’s weighty symphony…remains a thrilling chamber work.” I’m not so sure that I would characterize the piece in exactly those terms, and in particular if I am listening to a symphony I do not want it to sound like chamber music (Where did that cliché come from?). And fortunately, Sawallisch does not play it like a string quartet; the music has plenty of the necessary weight and physical impact.

What he does do, however, better than just about anyone else, is prevent the work from sounding immature, like an unhappy cross between clunky Schubert and undigested Wagner. For example, when Bruckner’s goofy imitation of Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture comes blasting in during the first movement (sound sample), Sawallisch ensures that the trombone tune retains a singing, legato line that never gets buried in the accompaniment. The result sounds majestic and purposeful, and not as asthmatic as it does in some other performances I can think of.

Judicious balances, ideal pacing (especially in the not-too-slow Adagio), and an exciting finale all give the music a feeling of inevitability. You don’t ordinarily listen to Bruckner and admire his formal elegance, but you do here, and if that comes from making the work sound “light and spacious,” then I guess that is what Sawallisch does. Whatever. This is one of the very best Bruckner Firsts around, and the essential place to start if you love the work.

-- David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ORF-C145851

  • UPC: 4011790145129

  • Label: Orfeo

  • Composer: Anton Bruckner

  • Conductor: Wolfgang Sawallisch

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bavarian State Orchestra


  1. Symphony no 1 in C minor, WAB 101

    Composer: Anton Bruckner

    Ensemble: Bavarian State Orchestra

    Conductor: Wolfgang Sawallisch