Symphony No. 3 (1877 version)
Vienna Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann
Sony Classical 19439861382 60:33 mins
Having completed his Bruckner symphony cycle with the Dresden Staatskapelle, Christian Thielemann is now recording the whole set again with the Vienna Philharmonic, and has reached the most problematic of the symphonies – that’s saying something – with the Third. There are several versions of this work, the first of which Bruckner showed to Wagner and was allowed to dedicate to him. It is immense, and contains quotations from Wagner’s dramas. It is also shapeless, and Bruckner completed two revised versions, in 1877 and 1889. The 1877 version is to be preferred, and that is what Thielemann opts for.
It’s the first of Bruckner’s symphonies which is unmistakably his in every bar, but not the last in suffering from structural problems, some of them acute. Bruckner works with large slabs of material, while what is easier and more satisfactory, is to work, as all the other great symphonists do, with short themes which are put through their paces in the body of the movement in which they occur. Hence Bruckner’s tendency, especially in his early symphonies, to indulge in silences and then set off on a new line. So paradoxically the finest Bruckner conductors show themselves at their best in how they handle the silences and the music either side of them. Thielemann fails this test, conspicuously in the Third. It seems to last forever, with little sense of where it is headed. The orchestra plays magnificently, but you can only enjoy it living for the minute.