This Bruckner Three augurs well for what I hope will be a complete Bruckner symphonic cycle. The Third is, with the Second, probably the most tinkered with. The best performance of this work I’ve ever heard was with this very orchestra under Kurt Sanderling on an Electrola LP. This orchestra has just the right Teutonic heft but, in the hands of Nelsons, assumes a real finesse (influenced by his work with the Boston Symphony?) in the softer Gesangsperioden (lyrical passages).
For Bruckner anoraks, this is the 1889 version, described somewhat fancifully by one critic as the “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am” one, a sentiment one doubts the resolutely chaste composer ever experienced. Bruckner was far, at this stage, from exploring, consciously or otherwise, the pyschological undercurrents apparent in the Eighth and Ninth symphonies.
Nelsons’ take has neither the (impressive) tempo idiosyncrasies of Jochum, nor the glamorised sheen and sleek legato of Karajan, nor yet the craggy implacability of Klemperer. The great recording producer Walter Legge, once said that Moghul architecture was monumental but finished with the lapidary detail of a jewel – something that all successful Bruckner conductors always achieve. Nelsons is aware of the need to construct an edifice, brick by brick, without losing sight of the ultimate goal or vision and by establishing a credible pulse, then, knowing just where to vary the tension.
The slow movement is a dignified statement but in the Scherzo, a relatively short movement, the headlong opening makes a plausible transition to the enebriated Ländler trio section and again in the equally precipitate and potentially bombastic finale when Bruckner, true to form, suddenly veers off unexpectedly and counter-intuitively into a reprise of the folksy Scherzo. The Gewandhaus covers itself in glory.
Formerly, this Symphony was often kwown as the “Wagner” Symphony so the barn-storming fill-up of the Tannhäuser Overture is especially welcome!