BRUCKNER Symphonies No 2 (Ivor Bolton)
Despite Ivor Bolton’s Bruckner recordings having been praised in these pages by Peter Quantrill, Richard Osborne and Edward Greenfield, the series has tended to fly somewhat under the radar in terms of public profile, possibly a result of Oehms already having three other Bruckner cycles to promote. For this impressive final instalment of the series, Bolton has opted for the early 1872 version of the Second Symphony, a choice which contrasts with his preference for the later versions of the symphonies elsewhere in the cycle. As with the other symphonies that exist in more than one version, Bruckner’s revisions involve both gains and losses. The 1872 score is by far the longest version as well as being notable for the horn solo at the end of the Adagio, which Bruckner subsequently rescored for clarinet due to the perceived difficulty of the original for the players of the time.
The booklet-note lists 69 players in the orchestra, with strings deployed in the ratio 18.104.22.168.7. This might seem modest for a Bruckner symphony but there is impressive heft and weight in the orchestral sound, particularly from the brass. Although the string tone couldn’t be described as fulsome, the playing is expressive and there’s no lack of volume when required. The overall impression is one of vividness and transparency, aided by the exemplary recording. The performance of the Scherzo is particularly successful, although Bolton’s direction of the outer movements is also very convincing. By contrast, the reading of the Adagio comes across as slightly cool, missing the luminosity that makes Gerd Schaller’s recording of the score so persuasive. However, Schaller’s version comes harnessed in a set with the First and Third Symphonies. Among single-disc offerings of the 1872 edition, Bolton’s recording is hard to beat.