Classical Bruckner-Mozart Series Barbican Centre, London

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The Independent Culture
The 1877 Vienna premiere of Bruckner's Third Symphony must have been one of the worst humiliations ever endured by a major composer. A couple of weeks before the event, the appointed conductor (Bruckner's champion Johann Herbeck) died, and Bruckner had to step in and face a hostile orchestra and audience himself. The hall emptied, leaving about 25 people, and when Bruckner turned to acknowledge their applause, the orchestra walked off, leaving him alone on stage.

Bruckner is said to have been seriously lacking in confidence, but the fact that he composed at all after this suggests that, where it mattered, he had plenty. But it gave a new and terrible urgency to his famous "revision mania", and when he returned to the Third, over 10 years later, he cut it drastically and re-wrote large chunks of it (apparently with "help" from one of his pupils). This last version is the one most often performed, and it was this score that the young Italian conductor Daniele Gatti used on Thursday for his contribution to the LSO Bruckner-Mozart Series.

It says a great deal for Gatti as a Brucknerian that he made this version sound as logical and compelling as it did. But there are still problems: the finale does sound "out", especially towards the end; there are stylistic lurches in the first movement; and the climax of the Adagio is crowned (if that's the word) with a surprisingly empty trumpet line. Gatti achieved a very convincing sound, especially in the "pastoral" Bruckner, where layered string and woodwind textures suggest rustling foliage and birdsong as vividly as Sibelius (who much admired this symphony). The slow, flowing momentum - like a great river - was sustained impressively through long tracts of the work, and the spirit of the dance filled the third movement - lovely to hear a Bruckner Scherzo so light on its feet.

Still, what a pity Gatti couldn't have broken with tradition and given us that 1877 score - the one which the young Mahler begged the older composer not to revise any more. There may be problems there too, but if you think a Bruckner symphony is improved by extensive cutting, you probably shouldn't be listening to Bruckner at all. Good as Gatti's performance was, he couldn't prevent the ending from sounding like a creaky deus ex machina - or, if you prefer, like a landlord quelling a potentially awkward pub scene by prematurely calling "Time".

Gatti's reading did, however, make up for his fatally bland version of Mozart's 40th Symphony. The textural layering, so effective in parts of the Bruckner, was mostly absent here; suave string tone dominated, woodwind very much in the background. Rather the roughest period-instrument performance than this.

One other, non-musical, point. When the gentleman in the stalls collapsed so dramatically in the slow movement of the Bruckner, it seemed to take a very long time to find anyone official who was willing (or permitted?) to do anything to help him. Incidents like this are, fortunately, rare, but they are not unknown. Perhaps concert hall managements should give this a little more thought.

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