Symphony 3 / Siegfried Idyll CD, Import
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I knew the symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Haydn's late stuff, the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, a bit of Schubert, Mahler's 1st and 9th, Tchaikovsky's 4th and 6th, plus some orchestral Wagner. So here was Bruckner for the first time. The music reminded me of mountain vistas. It was tedious in places, majestic in others. After the 8th, I explored the Bruckner canon in the order of 7, then 4, then 9, 5, 6, 3, 2, 1.
I had to get to know and appreciate all the symphonies over time, except the 3rd which I enjoyed immediately. Is it because it's the Wagner symphony? I don't know. I hear an adrenaline and excitement in this earlier work that Bruckner moved away from in his later style. Knappertsbusch's performance is the most elemental I've heard. Perhaps it's arrogant to say definitive since I can't claim to have heard all the Bruckner 3rds on the market, but wow, this is incredible music making. The mono sound quality is more than acceptable, it's actually quite good by the standards of the time.
A telegram-boy burst into the saloon and made a beeline for the lawmman.
"Sheriff Kna, Sheriff Kna! We've just received a telegram from one of the stations up the line. That notorious gunslinger `Two-Gun' Woger of Norrington, armed with Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor and Bruckner, A.: Symphony No. 3 (Norrington), is coming to town. He's accompanied by a preacher: Father Melchizedek OP, the High Priest of Period Practice. They'll be here at midday. From what the telegram says, they're gunning for you. They intend to send you to Boot Hill. Should I summon the Mayor? What do you want me to do?"
Sheriff Kna snorted. After ordering another round of whisky, he barked in a thick German accent.
"Vhatever. Let them come. It vill liven up the day!"
Shortly afterwards, propped up by the bar, the lawmaker dozed off. Out of sympathy, perhaps, the bar-tender took the opportunity to play Kna's Bruckner Third with the Vienna Philharmonic live from 1954. It comes in train with the Siegfried Idyll. The recording itself date belies its age - perhaps the sensitive remastering by Testament has reinvigorated it no end; mono though it be, it sounds just as good as the 1962 recording with the NDR orchestra (listen to how the Vienna Philharmonic dies away at 11'58" in the first movement - now that's ambience for you, all the way from 1954). Kna made no less than five recordings of Bruckner's Third Symphony - who else can claim this - all of which feature the 1889 edition. Arguably this is the most impressive of them. Kna is deeply alive to the ebb and flow of this epic utterance. As per usual, all of his credentials as a Brucknerian are on display: he's patient, farsighted and alive to the humour which runs through the Third like a sub-artesian stream. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is lithe, athletic and accurate (they build up a tremendous head of steam at 6'22" in the first movement and at 10'45" ff in the ascent to the climax of the Adagio). Their use of tremolo is deeply etched and aggressive (13'40" in the slow movement). Many a criticism is levelled at the Third Symphony but the Scherzo is usually spared: it is a wonderful creation in anyone's language - and the Viennese strings are thrilling in its passages for pizzicato. The coda of the finale, blazingly played, offers catharsis - and only Kna could get away with the deaccelerando which occurs at 11'08"ff. In short, there is no better Third on the market. This could be a listener's first foray into historic recordings via `the shallow end' - they don't come any more winningly than this one. The Siegfried Idyll is played with the same degree of dedicated. It sounds marvellous too. Come the horn-signal at 16'28", magic is in floodtide even if the woodwind bungle the accompaniment. It matters not: there is peace in the valley.
It was high noon. A locomotive pulled into Tombstone's station. A wiry guy with a goatee beard leapt from the caboose: it was Woger of Norrington. He holstered a six-shooter on each hip. He was accompanied by a pale, rotund figure dressed in ecclesiastical robes and armed with a high-calibre crozier. The other travellers on the platform readily made way as the pair menacingly strode through their midst. As they trotted onto Main Street, the shopkeepers hurriedly closed premises and boarded up windows. Mothers scurried away with their children. The intruders took up a position some fifty metres from the saloon with a clear line-of-sight. Grinning like a gargoyle, the gunslinger drew his two revolvers and shot them off into the air.
"Where is this old dinosaur, Kna?" he cackled in an English accent as he reloaded his guns. "Kna, Kna, Kna, Kna, Kna, Kna, Kna - Kna, Kna, Kna, Kna - Hey Jude! Where is this venerable apostle of vibrato? Or has he finally realised what we have been saying all these years: he's dead - he just doesn't realise it. The corpse stops twitching today!"
The gunshots awoke Sheriff Kna from his sleep. It was time to do battle. After paying the bar-tender, he sleepily donned his cowboy hat, hitched up his belt and lurched through the saloon's doors and onto Main Street.
"Think on your sins!" Father Melchizedek shrieked as their adversary made an appearance. "Yes Kna, we know all about your Heldenwhoop und Heldenblare. It ends here! It ends today. Come tomorrow you'll be forgotten. A belated grave awaits you, Sheriff Kna. Once you're done and dusted, I'll commission a spruce, vibrato-less Bruckner cycle from Woger here or Jeggy himself after he so distinguished himself in Bruckner: Mass No. 1 in D minor / Motets - The Monteverdi Choir / Wiener Philharmoniker / John Eliot Gardiner (sic)."
The protagonists sized each other up. Kna did not seem to be carrying a gun but he kept his right hand in his vest, Napoleon-style. Woger's pale hands hovered over the pearl handles of his six-shooters. His fingers twitched. Before Sheriff Kna could react, Woger had drawn and was firing away. Off they went, bullet after bullet after bullet. But as per usual with this gunslinger, not one of them hit the target. Woger quickly reloaded and fire away again. The same result ensued. In desperation he repeated this act but to no avail. All the while, Sheriff Kna was steadily walking towards them with a grin on his face. Seconds later, he stood within centimetres of his face.
"There is a saying: if it bleeds, we can kill it. You, Sir Voger, are as bloodless as can be. I could not sent you to Boot Hill even if I tried."
Sheriff Kna kneed his adversary in the cods. Undergoing a sex-change on the spot, Woger fell to his knees and then toppled over backwards. The lawman drew his hand from his vest. He was holding a pack of cards - death-cards. He extracted one from the pack - the Two of Clubs - and placed it ebulliently on Woger's bony ribcage. He then turned to face the cleric. Father Melchizedek's teeth were chattering like a typewriter and he promptly soiled his vestments. Kna paused to light up a ciggy and then scrutinised his death cards as if they were tarot. With a grin, he selected a card and held it up in the air: it was the Queen of Hearts. Fixated by the omen, the cleric backed away, murmuring imprecations and invoking the protection of St Sandrine of Piau only to topple over into a nearby trough of water where the local nags befriended the hapless cleric - and not least, an amorous stallion. The card soon joined him.