3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Doug - Haydn Fan
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Recorded way back in 1967, decades before the fall of the Berlin Wall, this remains my favorite performance of this rarely played work. Although not an easy work to bring off even today, Neumann quite surprised me in this recording: You would think the Gewandhaus of the mid-Sixties had been playing this early Bruckner work for years!
Chronologically the symphony recorded here is not the first symphony Bruckner composed: Bruckner scholars continually confuse mere mortals by insisting an 1863 student work in F minor, which Bruckner wrote while in Linz for his composition teacher Kitzler, should be counted a real symphony. So if this C minor symphony is not technically Bruckner's first symphony, then it must be his second, right? Well, not exactly.
The C minor was also composed in Linz, a few years later in 1865-66. However, there's another symphony in D minor - the composer loved those minor keys! - this work was also composed in Linz. In fact, as Bruckner himself went to great pains to point out, it's most rudimentary. (Bruckner called it "gilt nicht" - or not worth counting - and marked it with a "0" to signify it was, in his annotation, "Thrown out, completely invalid, annulled, only a trial.") But - and with Bruckner there's always a 'but'swirling about these editions - Bruckner touched up this 1864 work and then...dated it 1869. Although obviously inferior to the First C minor, this has not stopped the Bruckner industry, which seizes upon even such minor works as these rough student works as shards from the true cross! So novices to this Never-never realm of musical scholarship must sort out TWO early works - one - the D minor - labeled "0" - and another, the very first F minor - now designated "00" or Student Symphony. (Of course I might have got this ALL wrong, as most scholars put the "0" D minor third - but - as I said, there's always a 'but' in Bruckner' - the Linz Institute agrees!)
Leaping ahead a full century - In the mid-1960's Bruckner's symphonic works were was not frequently played, and it would be a rare audience that came across any of these early works in the concert hall. Today's conductors enjoy the immense advantage of having available dozens of recordings of this music, not to mention orchestras far more familiar with Bruckner's entire range of symphonies. This was definitely NOT the case back in 1967 when Neumann recorded this early Symphony in C minor. So it's really quite remarkable this 45 year old performance of the symphony still holds it own against modern versions - a great compliment to the conductor and his players! The music had first been recorded in 1950 by AndreaeBruckner: Symphonies Nos. 1- 9 / Te Deum, another excellent performance, but slightly busier, with less orchestra refinement, and less formal than the Neumann traversal. And nothing remotely like the fine stereo sound given the Leipzig orchestra by the engineers and well transferred to Cd. I believe Jochum's traversal of the music for DG was in the Fall of 1965, but I can't locate any other earlier recordings - though I'm sure Gruppe Bruckner will set me straight!
The stature of Neumann's achievement is revealed in comparison with the excellent recent Gewandhaus recording of the Symphony - part of a complete series - under the leadership of Herbert Blomstedt, and taken from a live concert of June 2011. Bruckner: Symphony No. 1. Blomstedt plays the music with great care and the newer recording's transparency of the orchestra sections is marvelous, but in the end Blomstedt doesn't quite release the music's excitement as effectively as we hear in the Newmann performance of nearly half a century before. Newmann has the enviable gift of turning up the intensity without becoming bombastic - a fault I find in most of the more dramatic and large scaled (read loud) recordings of this music. I also admire how the orchestra plays with a real snap and intensity whenever Neumann calls for it.
Nothing is straightforward when it comes to performing editions of Bruckner - Thus, this recording, as other reviewers have clarified, derives from the first Linz version of the symphony, and not a much later revision, written when Bruckner was overwhelmed by second, third, and even fourth thoughts about his works and accepted revisions by others and/or did his own reworking. In the case of the Linz Symphony in C minor the later revised version is widely disliked: One of the clear cases where almost everyone prefers the composer's first thoughts. Although far from a success, the C minor is a fully developed symphony and already flashes signs of Bruckner's later mastery of large scale - even gigantic! - form. Like all his symphonies, the radiant and delightfully whimsical Scherzo captivates, its trio yet another one of those idyllic passages that win over even the most hardened of Bruckner skeptics.
The other three movements, like the first gestation months of the great Blue Whale, remain more harbingers of the majesty to come than actual successful life forces in their own right. Neumann builds from this pretypifying material a reasonably cogent symphonic work - but the composer must still travel a long road till he attains the fully realized Fourth, Bruckner's first absolute masterpiece.