Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble & Trevor Pinnock - Bruckner: Symphonie No. 2 -

In 1918 Arnold Schoenberg formed his 'Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen'
(Society for Private Musical Performance) as a reaction against the commercialisation of music in post-war Vienna. At these private concerts a wide variety of contemporary works by such composers as Ravel, Debussy, Bartok, Mahler and Johann Strauss were performed in chamber scoring. Many of the arrangements were made by Schoenberg's pupils including the familiar names of Anton Webern and Alban Berg whose substantial arrangement of the popular waltz 'Wine, Women and Song' by Johann Strauss II is the second item on this new Linn SACD - surprisingly it is omitted from the front cover of the jewel box.

Though the Royal Academy of Music students have previously recorded a chamber version of Mahler's 4th Symphony as arranged by Schoenberg's colleagues Benno Sachs and Erwin Stein (Mahler: Symphony No. 4 - Pinnock) this intriguing arrangement of Bruckner's Second Symphony is a new one by the composer Anthony Payne, perhaps most well-known for his realisation of Elgar's 3rd Symphony. The idea for a chamber arrangement of Bruckner's 2nd Symphony came from the Royal Academy of Music's Principal, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, and in the liner notes with this disc Anthony Payne gives an honest and amusing account of how he was persuaded to undertake this daunting commission that took him five months of hard work to complete.

There is no doubt that Payne's version is most successful in bringing a Schubertian grace and clarity to the piece whilst allowing it to remain unmistakeably as the work of Bruckner. Perhaps only his decision to omit repeats in the scherzo - thus reducing it to a mere 6'.09" - might be considered questionable. For this performance the conductor Trevor Pinnock studied Bruckner's own manuscript score before deciding on which of the many revisions to incorporate in his performing version of one of the composer's most neglected symphonies. His tempo choices seem well-judged and especially persuasive in the eloquent slow movement.

However, without wishing in any way to belittle the efforts of the arranger, conductor and the splendid players of the RAMSE, one is left wondering how often, in this day and age, one would wish to listen to Bruckner's 2nd Symphony as presented here rather than on one of the many outstanding full orchestral versions available. Nevertheless, whatever one's view is on arranging this symphony for a group of 20 players, there is no doubt about the exceptionally high standard of execution from the accomplished young musicians of the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble. All acquit themselves superbly; displaying a confidence and accuracy that would put many professional orchestras to shame.

The fill-up, of the aforementioned Strauss waltz, is beguilingly played with the distinctive sound of the harmonium bringing an old-world charm that conjures up the café society of fin de siècle Vienna. The recording, made in St. Georges, Bristol last year and engineered by Philip Hobbs, is bright and clear with a pleasing ambience.

This is a most enjoyable realisation of Schoenberg's vision that will definitely appeal to those whose curiosity is aroused by chamber reductions of the symphonic repertoire. 

06 April 2014