BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor (1866) "Linz" Version)
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra; Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, cond.
Arte Nova 59226  (B) (DDD)   TT: 46:01

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 1 (1866 Version, modified)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado, cond.
Deutsche Grammophon 453 415 (DDD) (F) TT: 48:27

The Arte Nova was recorded on June 13-18, 1995, in Saarbrücken's Kongresshalle, and sounds very much like the other recordings in this burgeoning and prevailingly distinguished series by the Polish septuagenarian, Skrowaczewski. He opted for Leopold Novak's Bruckner International Society edition of the "original" score, written at Linz near the end of the composer's 13-year-tenure as organist of the city's largest cathedral. According to the latest scholarship, the finished form of Symphony No. 1 predated completion of the Symphony he called "0," composed and recomposed over a four-year period from 1865 to 1869.

Both are "lite" Bruckner (if aficionados can imagine him being other than unsmilingly serious). While they anticipate the later works, there's no Tristan-esque overlay that the rest, beginning with Nos. 2, exhibit to a greater or lesser degree. Nos. 1 and "0" have charming slow movements, are elsewhere amiable and energized, with reminders in their scherzos that the Linz opera company played plenty of Verdi. They are a neophyte listener's best introduction to a singular repertory.

Abbado's version, recorded at performances in the large hall of Vienna's Musikverein during January 1996, is neither clear-cut texturally nor as a recording per se. Although bright, forthright and weighty, the sound is oddly artificial -- almost "canned" --in a way that confounds explicit definition. Where Skrowaczewski has first-rate German broadcast sound, maybe a little bass-light, Abbado's suggests "creative" editing after the fact. Certainly it's not bad, and you may in fact like its heft and wallop, but the naturalness of his best Vienna recordings has been diluted.

Even more problematic -- not counting Abbado's longer timings by 2 minutes, 26 seconds overall -- was his decision to incorporate certain changes Bruckner made 24 years after the work's completion. In the wake of several disciples' criticism of the Eighth Symphony, the composer, elderly and ill, began revising willy-nilly. Even Nowak, who favored Bruckner's final changes in almost every case (even the blatantly disfiguring ones), dismissed his 1890 tinkerings with the Symphony No. 1 as grotesque.

What Abbado interpolated adds a beefiness that compromises the dignity manifest in his Vienna recordings of Nos. 4 and 7 (their Fifth I don't know; perhaps, like No. 1, it is a pricey special import). Packaging is seductive with a gold-ink background on the program cover and meticulous annotation, but Arte Novba's skimpily documented insert, with Kitsch-Picasso cover art by "Herbert Muckenschnabl, Schönanger," offers the more ebullient performance -- at $14 less, another prize.

R.D. (Sept. 1999)