Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 in D minor

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in D minor
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Lovro von Matacic
This is a tremendous performance, by a conductor with a view of Bruckner which is both personal and authoritative. Before I go any further, that word ‘personal’ requires one big caveat. According to the details on the back of the box, this is the 1877 version of the Third Symphony. Well, broadly speaking it is, except that Lovro von Matacic´ incorporated several of the changes Bruckner made – or had forced on him – in the more familiar 1889 revision: for example the gauche trumpet fanfares at the climax of the slow movement, or the lopping off of the scherzo’s coda. There’s also a sustained deep bass D at the beginning of the work which has nothing to do with any published version. And yet in spite of that, Matacic´’s Third has to have five stars. Very few conductors have combined so effectively a sense of grandeur and steady forward movement, of sensuous Romanticism and gritty objectivity in this problematical symphony. The scherzo really dances; so, too, does the polka-like melody which accompanies the sombre chorale theme in the finale – Bruckner’s suggestion that this strange opposition expresses the simultaneous presence of life and death begins to make sense. Bernard Haitink’s second recording, with the Vienna Philharmonic, is musically penetrating and textually faithful – 1877 and nothing else. But it isn’t quite as compelling, or as characterful as this. Matacic´ doesn’t convince me that Bruckner’s Third is problem-free, but the 1877 score has rarely made so much sense. And for a live concert recording, nearly two decades old, the sound is remarkably good. Stephen Johnson