BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (1887 version, ed. Leopold Nowak). Symphony No. 0 in D minor (Die Nullte).
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/ George Tintner, cond.
Naxos 8.554215/16 (2 CDs) (B) (DDD) TT: 82:28 & 47:35
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Sorry, not a contender in the budget bracket dominated by Skrowaczewski/Saarbrücken on Arte Nova (see index for a previous review). Part of the problem was Tintner's decision to record the "first" version, which features a loud ending to the first movement that sacrifices the repose in Bruckner's subsequent tinkerings. He also made numerous other changes for the better, but disfiguring cuts, too -- especially in the finale. Robert Haas' assembled edition continues to be the most coherent and powerful.

The Naxos problem is further compounded by an in-your-face recording, lacking in depth, that sounds blatant when Bruckner unfurls tripled winds and brass. Nor is Dublin's National Symphony on top of the challenge, valiant though the players seem to be. Most of them, I suspect, are young and unused to the Bruckner idiom. The 79-year old Tintner's flagging energy (when this was recorded in September 1996) is comparably serious: when he needs most to keep us from counting Bruckner's sequnces -- a forest of phrases repeated over and over -- counting is the only way to stay alert.

One last problem may be the stickiest of all: the coupled performance of Symphony No. 0 -- Bruckner's real third, composed after No. 1 in a canon beginning with the "Student" Symphony of 1863 -- is close to being superb. Not just the playing (which demands less of Dublin's orchestra than the later symphonies), but Tintner's energized reading and real control. REB loaned me Haitink's boxed Amsterdam set of Symphonies 0-9, and comparatively the Dutch "Nullte" lacks Tintner's enthusiasm and nuance.

Of course Holland's premiere orchestra is better than the Irish National. But in No. 0 the Dubliners outpoint Haitink, which hangs us on the horns of dilemma: A "first draft" version of No. 8, raucously recorded and musically overparted -- hardly worth shelf space or the price (since it spills onto a second disc) -- yet a loveable performance of No. 0, with its beguiling echoes of pre-Wagner German opera and mid-l9th-century Italian opera. For a bargain-basement Eighth, though, stay with Skrowaczewski and his crack German radio orchestra.

R.D. (Nov. 1999)