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Bruckner: Symphony No. 2 (Vienna Phil/Thielemann)

Vienna Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann (Sony Classical)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Bruckner
Symphony No. 2 (ed. Carragan)
Vienna Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann
Sony Classical 19439914122   58:10 mins

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Well, this was a surprise. Previous encounters with Christian Thielemann in Beethoven and Schumann (admittedly a while ago) have struck me as heavy going. And the general tendency to treat Bruckner’s symphonies as weighty ‘cathedrals in sound’ almost at the expense of any warm, supple human element has, I think, gone way too far in recent years. But right from the start this is beautifully paced, expansive but never dragging, and with a richly ‘featured’ sound. Instead of going for homogenised plushness, Thielemann brings out details subtly but tellingly: I’d forgotten how much lovely woodwind writing there is in this work. Also striking from the first cello phrases is how expressive it all is. This is emphatically not the kind of performance that concentrates exclusively on sound and structure. It’s a palpably warm-blooded Bruckner: a great musical architect certainly, but also a man who loved Schubert’s Lieder and used to quote them regularly to his friends, and who was a fine dancer until well into his sixties.

I’m not sure that taking the Adagio at what feels like a half-speed version of the first movement’s basic pulse is entirely convincing, or at least not at first; but it draws one in, the climax and final benediction movingly done. In the problematic ‘pause’ finale Thielemann judges everything so well that, as in the old Haitink recording, it’s hard to see what the problem ever was.

The new Carragan version of the score sounds a lot like the Haas edition, but with a few small surprises. This symphony may still not emerge as perfectly achieved, but treated like this it carries its conviction right through to the end.

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Stephen Johnson