BRUCKNER Symphony No 1 (Gergiev)
These new recordings in Gergiev’s Bruckner series derive from a single concert given in the monastery of St Florian. When I reviewed the cycle’s inaugural release of the Fourth Symphony (11/16), I observed that Gergiev’s otherwise laudable interpretation was undermined by problems with the sound and production. This time around there are no issues with the recording quality but some other factors prevent these new releases from being fully recommendable.
In the case of the First Symphony, Gergiev’s performance is for the most part direct and compelling, the faster movements underpinned by a propulsive bass line and sense of purpose that communicate a strong degree of excitement. The Adagio too is very fine, with luminous playing and a passionate climax. There’s some occasionally fussy rubato in the first movement and dynamic contrasts are neglected at times, but these I can live with. More problematic, however, are the frequent rasping and puffing sounds made by the conductor, among the most conspicuous I’ve heard in a recording and especially distracting in the Scherzo. Largely for this reason, the newcomer offers no challenge to the superbly played and recorded version by Jaap van Zweden and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.
The recording of the Third Symphony is blessedly free from the vocalisations that afflict the First Symphony but Gergiev’s neglect of dynamic contrasts is more of an issue here, minimising the grandeur of climactic passages and robbing the symphony’s quieter passages of a sense of repose. Gergiev also pays little heed to Bruckner’s tempo markings in the early stages of the Adagio and pushes the pace to a rapid rate of knots later on in the movement. The effect is undeniably exciting on a moment-by-moment basis but comes at the expense of the movement’s wider symphonic structure. The Trio of the Scherzo also features some arbitrary tempo manipulation for no obvious benefit.
There’s no doubting Gergiev’s grip on proceedings and the warmth and commitment of the playing, but what was most likely an involving experience heard live is less satisfactory as a recording. This is not always the case, of course, as demonstrated by RCA’s recording of the magnificent performance given by Günter Wand with the NDR Symphony Orchestra in 1992.