Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 (1873 version)

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (1873 version)
PERFORMER: German SO Berlin/Kent Nagano
It’s good to see the original 1873 score of Bruckner’s Third Symphony being taken more and more seriously. It may be the most austere, not to mention the longest version of this much-revised work; but in enriching the sound in his later reworkings, it’s possible that Bruckner lost sight of his original structural vision. That’s the conclusion one is led to by the recordings of Georg Tintner (Naxos) and Roger Norrington (EMI). But would you get the same impression from this new reading? I suspect not. Although Kent Nagano’s Bruckner 3 has its good points – he has a good ear for small but telling details in complex textures – it’s also just about the most languid performance of a Bruckner symphony I’ve ever heard. There are moments of ethereal beauty, but drama, grandeur, heart-stopping silences, the tension that arises when irresistible force meets immovable object – rarely have these crucial Brucknerian elements seemed in such short supply. And however beautiful the passing moments, they can’t compensate for the static feeling that pervades so much of this performance. Bruckner may take his time, but there should still be some sense of current behind it all. Both the spacious Tintner and the more impetuous Norrington convey that sense without pushing the music. Of the two it’s Tintner who gives the more roundly satisfying performance, but even that isn’t ideal. A hundred and thirty-one years after it was completed, Bruckner’s original ‘Wagner Symphony’ still awaits a fully worthy interpreter. Stephen Johnson