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Bruckner: Symphony No. 2, etc (Gewandhausorchester/Nelsons)

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Andris Nelsons (DG)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Bruckner • Wagner
Bruckner: Symphony No. 2 (1877 version); Symphony No. 8 (1890 version); Wagner: Meistersinger Prelude
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Andris Nelsons
DG 483 9834   149:15 mins (2 discs)

This is the latest instalment of Andris Nelsons’s Bruckner series, with a Wagner item to launch or round off each release: in this case the Overture to Die Meistersinger, the emphasis here much more on majesty than mischief. Then Symphony No. 2, perhaps the least played of the symphonies, though one of my favourites.

You could hear Bruckner’s Second as a self-parody, with its innumerable pauses, its repetitive figurations, its sudden changes of mood. But Nelsons plays it down, so far as that is possible, which means that his account with his  magnificent Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra sounds as if Bruckner is failing to do something, rather than moving towards the superb works that follow. There are times when Bruckner should sound uncouth, yet there is a tendency nowadays to make him sound glossy – which it seems Nelsons is ambivalent about.

The symphony on the set’s second disc is Bruckner’s sublime completed masterpiece, No. 8. As its stock has risen sharply and justly over the decades, so have performances and recordings, until now there is a bemusing number.

I like Nelsons’s approach, and the orchestra is magnificent. Some recent accounts sound as if Bruckner was trying to pre-empt Richard Strauss in Alpensinfonie mode, strenuous but luscious. Bruckner is often strenuous but never luscious, fundamentally even austere. The Leipzigers have the right kind of sound, but Nelsons seems uncertain how smoothly the music should flow, so though I found his account of it decent, it lacks the anxiety which surely pervades all Bruckner’s works.


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Michael Tanner