Jan 10, 2024

Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

First version, 1873 (edited by Leopold Nowak). Gürzenich-Orchester Köln; François-Xavier Roth, conductor. Myrios Classics MYR033

One of the most fascinating yet frustrating bodies of work left by a major musical figure is the set of symphonies of the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). There are the nine numbered symphonies (i.e., Symphonies Nos. 1-9), some of which exist in several different versions, having been revised by Bruckner himself and/or various others. In addition, there are two other symphonies, including a D minor Symphony, which he retracted, but which has been published and is referred to today as Symphony No. 0 (‘Die Nullte’) and an F minor symphony, which he rejected, but was finally published in 1973 and is sometimes referred to as Symphony No. 00 (‘Study Symphony’). Particularly complicated has been the story of his Symphony No. 3, as this explanation from the Hyperion website makes clear: “Of all the Bruckner symphonies, No. 3 is the most fraught with editorial ‘problems’. At least eight versions are known to exist: the original version of 1873 (not published until 1977); the first revision (1874, also unpublished); a ‘rhythmic revision’ (1876); a third revision, published in 1878 as the first edition (used for the premiere); a ‘Fritz Oeser’ edition of 1877; and two other versions from 1889, one edited by Nowak. Bruckner called No. 3 his ‘Wagner Symphony’ and it contains many quotations from the Wagner operas including the famous cascading strings from the Tannhäuser Overture.” You can also find some information about versions of the work in this YouTube video by music critic David Hurwitz, who favors the 1877 version.

What we have here is a recording of the original 1873 version. If you watch the Hurwitz video, you will discover that although he finds the 1877 version to be his favorite, he has good things to say about Georg Tintner’s Naxos CD of this same 1873 version, which Tinter recorded with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 1998 and Naxos released early in 2000. Now we have a fresh new recording by the Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne, Germany, under the direction of French conductor François-Xavier Roth (b. 1971), who is perhaps most familiar to classical music listeners from his many recordings with Les Siècles, the period-instrument orchestra that he founded. However, Roth has conducted many other orchestras, and in 2015, he was appointed Gürzenich Principal Conductor as well as General Music Director of the City of Cologne. In addition, the Gürzenich Orchestra, which was founded in 1827, has been associated with the music of Bruckner for more than a century, the liner notes pointing out that “among all chief conductors after the Second World War, Günter Wand is remembered for having featured Bruckner’s symphonies most prominently; he made them the mainstay of the orchestra’s repertoire during the entire course of his long tenure as General Music Director until 1974… Under Wand’s successors Yuri Ahronovitch and Markus Stenz, the symphonies of Anton Bruckner continued to play a key role in Gürzenich Orchestra concert programmes.”

The notes go on to point out that in his first concert as Principal Conductor, Roth led the orchestra in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, and that he and the orchestra will be marking the Bruckner bicentennial by recording the complete set of symphonies, of which the present recording is apparently the first installment. It’s a good start, as this is a fine recording. For those veteran Bruckner fans who may be familiar with the 1873 version from Tintner’s Naxos disc, Roth’s version offers quite a different perspective on the score, with Roth being both livelier in pace and less inclined toward long pauses. Comparing timings by movement between the two conductors we find the following: I. Gemäßigt, misterioso (Roth, 22:59; Tintner, 30:39) II. Adagio: Feierlich (Roth, 16:20; Tintner, 20:40) III. Scherzo: Ziemlich schnell (Roth, 6:07; Tintner, 6:50) IV. Finale: Allegro (Roth, 16:15; Tintner, 19:21). There is much to be said for Tintner’s version, which brings a sense of majesty and wonder to the score; on the other hand, Roth’s approach sounds more natural, more rational, more refined. Devoted Brucknerians might well wish to acquire both. But for those who have never before heard this early version of the score, this Roth recording is the one with which to start. The Gürzenich players obviously are familiar both with Bruckner and with Roth, the end result being a recording that sounds just right, aided by excellent engineering. We are going to be flooded with Bruckner recordings in 2024; let’s hope at least some of them rise to the standard of this one from 2023.

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing for the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me — point out recordings that they think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa