Roger Norrington

Bruckner: Symphony No. 3

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Experts and amateurs may disagree about which of the many editions of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 in D minor is preferable, but most would question whether the conductor on this 2007 Haenssler Classic release is really the right choice for this music. The first version of 1873 has its defenders, largely on the basis that this is the most expansive and revolutionary version in form, and because it is the score that the composer intentionally preserved for posterity in the face of all the editorial changes and cuts made by his well-meaning followers. Yet even if this quirky version -- replete with quotations from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Die Walküre, and Die Meistersinger, as well as quotes from Franz Liszt's Graner Mass and Bruckner's own Mass in D minor -- is satisfying to listeners who haven't yet formed an attachment to any of the later editions, it is sure to underwhelm fans as it is played by Roger Norrington and the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR. Norrington has made his career on delivering historically informed readings of works from the Classical and Romantic periods, and he's a stickler for getting everything right, from the known seating arrangement of the orchestra to proper methods of playing period instruments. This is fine for anyone curious to hear what the symphony would have sounded like in its day, but there's a good deal more to Bruckner's ethos than what can be found in period practices. Norrington gets a rather mechanistic performance out of the orchestra that is technically precise and always clean, but cold and calculated, and lacking the gracefulness, warmth, pathos, and grandeur that make Bruckner beloved, despite his numerous flaws. Norrington's fastidious, letter-perfect performance is perhaps only of value for studying the symphony in its original state, but it is neither emotionally fulfilling nor revelatory of Bruckner's deeper mysteries, and quite hard to like for its stiffness.

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