BRUCKNER Symphony No 2. STRAUSS Der Bürger als Edelmann
The recordings on this two-CD set originate from a concert at the Salzburg Festival celebrating Riccardo Muti’s 75th birthday. Both works were first heard in performances by the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of their respective composers, and the orchestra also performed the Bourgeois gentilhomme suite in a concert conducted by Strauss for his own 75th birthday. By contrast, Bruckner conducted the Vienna Philharmonic only the once, and this is only the orchestra’s second recording of his Second Symphony, the first being Horst Stein’s studio version of 1973 (Decca Eloquence, 3/75).
The CD booklet tells us that Muti regards the Second Symphony as the most Italianate of the cycle, and he offers a warm and engaging performance of the score. It’s a pity, however, that he prefers the superseded Nowak edition of the symphony, arguably the least satisfactory from an editorial perspective. Not only does it replicate the merging of different versions of the score from the earlier Haas edition, it offers the conductor a number of optional cuts, which results in different recordings offering slightly different versions of the text. Solti, for example, restores the material from the first, second and fourth movements, while Karajan takes an intermediate approach by restoring the unhelpful cut in the finale. Muti, by contrast, follows conductors such as Jochum and Giulini in adopting all of the cuts indicated by Nowak.
Under Muti’s direction, the Vienna Philharmonic’s playing is rich and detailed, with dynamics and tempo markings carefully observed. The passage for solo flute and violin in the coda of the Andante is exquisitely rendered, and the playing of the solo clarinet at the end makes this passage almost as moving as the original version scored for horn. Elsewhere, Muti brings a strong sense of purpose to the performance, with only the last degree of intensity missing from climactic passages.
The performance of the Bourgeois gentilhomme suite also benefits greatly from the presence of the Vienna Philharmonic, with engaging solos from the likes of oboe, horn and solo violin, the latter provided by concertmaster Rainer Küchl on the eve of his retirement with the orchestra. There’s also a fine contribution from pianist Gerhard Oppitz. Muti’s interpretation is characterful and sharply etched, with a keen sense of the parodistic elements in the final movement, although Muti’s relaxed tempos occasionally sound over-deliberate and undermine the sense of spontaneity. Kempe’s early 1970s recording with the Staatskapelle Dresden (EMI/Warner, 10/73) offers an altogether much more affectionate approach, and Reiner’s version from 1956 (Sony/RCA) is even finer still, although he omits the two Lully-inspired numbers from the nine-movement suite. As with the symphony, the recording is clear and vivid, with applause retained before and after the performance.