Bruckner, Wagner: Symphony No. 3 in D minor

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner,Wagner
LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in D minor
PERFORMER: Baden Baden and Freiburg SWR SO/Michael Gielen
The most strikingly positive feature of Gielen’s Bruckner Third is his pacing of the musical argument. Without being too rigid, he allows us to feel that behind each movement is a steady, unifying pulse – never fast, but accumulating energy like a vast snowball running down a very long slope. This is all the more striking in the Third Symphony as for many Brucknerians it’s structurally the most flawed of the numbered symphonies. The 1877 version may be more convincing in this sense than the familiar 1889 final revision, but there are still moments where the seams show. I was less aware of them in this performance than in almost any other of this score. Whether this is the kind of Bruckner Three one would want to live with is another matter. For all he has to tell us about Bruckner’s musical architecture, Gielen rarely probes much beneath the surface emotionally speaking, nor is there much evidence of feeling for the sheer sensuous beauty of some of Bruckner’s writing – striking absences in the work Bruckner persisted in calling his ‘Wagner Symphony’. Bernard Haitink’s second recording (with the Vienna Philharmonic) may not be quite as convincingly paced as Gielen’s, but subjectively it’s much more alive, and the orchestral sound is gorgeous. Haitink’s version offers no coupling, but Gielen’s clear-headed, inwardly detached Wagner extracts aren’t enough to compensate. Stephen Johnson