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Symphony 2 in C Minor Import
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Symphonie n° 2, WAB 102 / Orchestre Symphonique National d'Irlande, dir. Georg Tintner
Odd that, even now, Bruckner's Second Symphony is often left out of the reckoning. It's a transitional work in many respects, although the clear, powerful outlines of the mature symphonist are already in evidence, while the content is of a high quality. The wistful opening theme in the strings, the "Adagio"'s pastoral mysticism--such music could only be by Bruckner, although the expression is less monumental than it later became. Like several other of his symphonies, there's more than one edition: Georg Tintner gives you the original version, which means not just all the music, but the orchestration as Bruckner conceived it in 1872. The work emerges with a rhythmic incisiveness worthy of Schubert--and not even undertones of Wagner. Although the Ireland NSO may not be world-class, they certainly have the measure of Bruckner's style, but then they also have one of the finest living Bruckner interpreters to guide then through this eventful and life-enhancing work. Even were it three times the price, this disc would be self-recommending. --Richard Whitehouse
The Eichorn recording was also released coupled with rehearsal sessions (of 1872) on a second disc. Either way, Eichorn and his orchestra are equal to the challenge Tintner offers -- but Tintner on Naxos has a decided advantage in price. If you already own one of the Eichorn versions there is no reason to replace it. For those first coming to this version of the Bruckner Second, choose Tinter without a moment's reservation... !
Georg Tintner gives us a very impressive reading with an unfailing ability to shape the various structural blocks and provide true romantic splendor and grandeur (the first movement is particularly impressively done), and the National Symphony of Ireland provides truly exceptional playing, passionate and powerful. Listen, for example, to the almost Beethoven-like pastoralism of the Scherzo's trio, or the unerringly noble sound of the finale. Good notes and splendid sound quality as well. Thoroughly recommended.
The best things about the Second are thrilling, and they appear in every edition, early or late. They include the whole Scherzo and the opening themes of the first and last movements. The Adagio is shaped like a mature Bruckner Adagio but is a bit flat and uninspired in its themes. Once you get into the middle sections of the first movement, especially when it is stopped in its tracks by nine big pauses (this work was once known as the symphony of pauses), the going gets loggy at times. The same is true of the finale, and the main argument against this first version is the hundred measures of music (about 8 min. worth) that do this movement no good; Bruckner cut them in three later editions. Yet on every other ground the Bruckner Second didn't lead to extensive rewriting, as happened with Sym. 3, 4, and 8. About the only reason to get excited over his "first thoughts" is the placement of the Scherzo as the second movement rather than the third, and those hundred extra bars in the last movement.
Tintner leads a loving reading, and he is especially effective in the Adagio, which he phrases more convincingly than any rival I've heard. But in the other three movements he is outdone by Simone Young and the Hamburg Phil., in a very strong and good-sounding reading that is by almost any measure superior. The Gramophone, which was almost slavish in its praise of Tintner, conveniently overlooked how substandard his Irish orchestra was; the woodwinds and brass barely rise to the level of mediocrity.
I realize that I'm swimming against the current when every other reviewer has practically gone mental praising this release, but the Young recording now sets the standard for the 1872 edition, and if like me you can do without those hundred bars in the finale, you can have the Second in a later edition performed with splendor by the Berlin Phil. (under Karajan or Barenboim) or even better, by the Vienna Sym. under Giulini, where the orchestra isn't of top quality but the conductor was a committed champion of the symphony.
In Michael Steinberg's book "The Symphony" he includes all the symphonies from No.4 onwards. A good argument might convince him that Nos. 2 and 3 also belonged in his otherwise excellent book. With the Second Symphony it's not just a matter of having Brucknerized-Schubert (as with the Sym. No.00). This symphony is a titan. The melodic material is far above average, the material is cohesive---even more cohesive than No.8---and the tunes are even more memorable than in many of his other symphonies.
It is also my opinion that the early symphonies of Bruckner, and this one in particular, have the advantage of having more interesting and exhilarting Finales than the more famous symphonies. This isn't just an underrated symphony that you might kinda-sorta like; It's a masterpiece that commands your attention.