Although this final version of Bruckner’s Third Symphony is last in line for many devotees of the composer – another of his works that is a minefield of editions and it was originally written with leanings to his hero Wagner – it must be said that Stanisław Skrowaczewski leads the London Philharmonic in a very persuasive account of it.
The veteran Polish conductor (born 3 October 1923) energises and moulds the first movement with both flexibility and direction, obtaining a warm and detailed response from the LPO, its musicians devoted to its guest maestro. In the first movement, Skrowaczewski binds grandeur, intimacy and reverie as one. If the recorded sound highlights brass, trumpets in particular, maybe this reflects the conductor’s preferences, but there are some imbalances not attributable to the Royal Festival Hall, and the added (unnecessary) reverberation can be unhelpful, souping-up fortissimos at times; less glare and more-focussed bass would have been welcome.
Sonic inconsistencies aside, the performance grips and enlightens, conducted with a generous and perceptive spirit, much energy too (such as in the thrilling increase of speed to herald the first-movement development), and reciprocated by an orchestra fully seized by Skrowaczewski’s seasoned grasp of the score. How beautiful are the opening pages of the slow movement, exquisitely lingering and then intensely expressed, the quiet passages sacred in their searching.
The Scherzo goes with a will, although the Ländler Trio is a little too slow and heavy (Karl Böhm in his Vienna Philharmonic recording for Decca is spot on here). The finale, however, is superbly fiery and vivid, and the Polka episode nicely languorous and given with affection. This sporadic movement is difficult to bring off; Skrowaczewski has an iron-grip on it and without denuding any one paragraph of character he drives and corresponds the material as bindingly as possible, but even he can’t disguise that the triumphant coda – here too brassy, with strings backward in the balance – arrives too soon and without preparation, which is one the flaws of this edition.
Talking of which, on the back of the CD casing is this legend: “The performance of the Symphony is Skrowaczewski’s own edition (not published).” Maybe, but on concert night itself, it was branded as being Nowak’s publication, so this information might be a hangover from the LPO’s previous issue of Bruckner 7 (review linked to below). Whatever, this is a splendid musical rendition of the Third and is recommended. Applause has been removed.