BRUCKNER Symphony No 1
This release sees the completion of Jaap van Zweden’s cycle of the numbered Bruckner symphonies, a project nine years in the making and split across two record labels. (The earliest symphonies to be recorded, Nos 2, 4, 5, 7 and 9, were released on the Japanese Exton label.) This excellent performance of the First Symphony is a more than fitting conclusion to a series that has grown in stature with each new recording.
Like most conductors, van Zweden has opted to record the symphony in the so-called ‘Linz’ edition of 1866 rather than the ‘Vienna’ edition of 1891, and the CD is labelled accordingly. The Linz edition as published in fact contains revisions to the score made by Bruckner in Vienna in 1877 and 1884, a point of detail worth mentioning now that the original 1866 version is available on disc and is increasingly being performed in concert. The booklet-note includes a helpful description of the symphony’s extended evolution.
Van Zweden’s interpretation is second to none in offering freshness and vibrancy while remaining faithful to Bruckner’s markings. Dynamics in particular are carefully observed, ensuring the score’s surprisingly rare passages of triple forte make their intended effect. The performance of the Adagio in particular has a compelling profundity and conviction. The movement’s climax might not offer the impassioned intensity that Jochum achieves in his mid-1960s account on DG, but it also avoids the overly free approach to tempo and dynamics that occasionally undermines the earlier performance. Following a taut and energetic interpretation of the Scherzo, van Zweden delivers a performance of the symphony’s finale – arguably Bruckner’s most successful save that of the Fifth Symphony – full of rhythmic drive and excitement.
The playing of the Dutch orchestra is expressive and lithe in every department, the brass in particular offering a satisfying resonance and bite. With warm and clear sound on both CD and SACD layers, it is difficult to think of a finer version of the First Symphony in the catalogue. Highly recommended.