BRUCKNER Symphony No 1 (Thielemann)
Although the outer sleeve and booklet note make no mention of it, this is the first recording of the International Bruckner Society’s new edition of the First Symphony. It also happens to be Christian Thielemann’s first recording of the symphony, as well as the first version of the work available on video. Prepared by Dr Thomas Röder, the new edition is based on the orchestral parts used for the symphony’s premiere in Linz in 1868. By contrast, the Linz editions prepared by Haas and Nowak, which refer to the symphony’s original completion date of 1866, are actually based on revisions made by Bruckner in Vienna in 1877. The new edition therefore represents a welcome tidying-up of the previously misleading nomenclature, albeit with the downside of adding yet another symphony version to the already crowded Bruckner pool. In practice, the differences between the 1868 and 1877 versions are relatively minor and largely confined to the final movement. One of the more conspicuous differences is the addition of trumpets in the very last bars of the 1877 version, which I feel closes the symphony in a more satisfying way than the scoring found in the 1868 version.
Thielemann’s performance, which he conducts from memory, is powerful and energetic. There are a few moments where the ensemble isn’t as clean as one might expect from an orchestra of this calibre, but the playing is impassioned and, in the Adagio, luminously beautiful. The video direction by Andreas Morell features very close-up shots of the players interspersed with middle-distance views of Thielemann and remote views of the orchestra from the upper rear of the hall. Seeing the commitment of the players from close up adds to the excitement of the performance, especially in the finale, although Morell’s choices occasionally leave something to be desired. For example, in the passage marked dolce in the second subject of the first movement (from 3'15"), I’d have preferred to have seen the solo instruments that are so eloquently playing rather than the view we get of Thielemann conducting and the violins preparing for their next entry. The picture quality is excellent, however, and the sound is weighty and full while retaining transparency in climaxes. With less than 50 minutes of actual music, the disc is rather short measure, but at present it has the video field entirely to itself.