BRUCKNER Symphony No 3 – Norrington
When Bruckner’s original 1873 version of this symphony was finally published in the Bruckner Gesamtausgabe in 1977, Robert Simpson drafted a new chapter for his landmark study The Essence of Bruckner (Gollancz: 1967) urging that the 1873 version should be repeatedly performed until the flaws of the two later versions became obvious to all. This hasn’t happened, despite the best efforts of Eliahu Inbal, whose fine 1982 Frankfurt recording is in many collections, and Sir Roger Norrington’s, whose second recording of the 1873 version this is.
Since he first recorded the symphony in 1995, Sir Roger has modified his tempo in the first movement. His brisk though no longer over-quick tempo works superbly with and through the spare, pellucid, finely honed texturing he draws from the Stuttgart orchestra, an ensemble which under his guidance has brought the art of playing modern instruments in old ways to a new pitch of excellence. There are wind and string sonorities here such as you would expect to hear in music of the Baroque period, something that suits early Bruckner especially well.
The vibrato-free Stuttgart strings play with a purity and simplicity that merits the epithet Cistercian. There are spellbinding moments of quiet at the start and finish of the first movement development and throughout the slow movement (a requiem, in part, for Bruckner’s lately deceased mother). The all-in-one Scherzo and Trio is also betwitchingly done, fiery but with grace and charm to spare.
One thing Sir Roger has not modified is his quick-fire treatment of the finale’s second theme: the counterpointing of polka and chorale inspired by Bruckner’s experience of hearing dance music issuing from a house while nearby a revered colleague lay in his coffin. Karl Böhm in his wonderfully idiomatic VPO recording of the 1889 version takes this at a leisurely 52 bars per minute, the usual pace for a Polka française (as opposed to Schnell-Polka) in Viennese ballrooms at the time. That reservation aside, this is a touching and exhilarating new account of the Third.