WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Georg Solti
CATALOGUE NO: 448 898-2 DDD
Bruckner was just over forty when he wrote this symphony in 1866 whilst living in Linz as its cathedral organist. What drew him to the symphony as a form of self-expression could well have been his first encounter with Wagner’s operas, Tannhäuser in 1863 and Tristan in 1865. He never wrote operas, but Wagner’s harmony and musical infrastructure seemed to unlock his own innate sense of architecture. Another great influence was Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in 1866, but Bruckner’s First Symphony is the only one of his ten which does not imitate the opening of that epic work. In 1891 he revised it, replacing his youthful enterprise with the fussings of old age (the ‘Vienna’ version). The original ’ version is used here.
Solti and the CSO take a while to get going, with unvarying black and white dynamics, but the coda is exciting. His strengths lie in the shaping of the lyrical phrases of the Adagio with its intense chromaticism and meandering harmonies, and in the Scherzo and Finale, both of which receive the rhythmic nervous energy which is the hallmark of the octogenarian conductor. At only 47 minutes Decca might have provided something else, even if only the G minor Overture. Christopher Fifield