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23.11.05

Twenty Fingers for Bruckner


available at Amazon
A. Bruckner / G. Mahler, Symphony No. 3 transcr. Piano Duo,
Trenkner / Speidel
MDG 3300591

Bruckner’s 3rd symphony is one of the less often recorded and performed of the Austrian master’s works. It is guilty of establishing Bruckner as a Wagnerite (which he certainly was – but his music is not nearly as Wagnerian as friends and detractors alike wanted to make it out to be) as it was pathetically humbly dedicated to Wagner (who chose this one for a dedication to himself rather than the admittedly less glorious 2nd, but then never so much as moved a finger to help its performance or even Bruckner’s acceptance as a composer). It exists in an abstruse amount of versions due to several revisions and rewritings. In the original 1872-73 version, the Wagnerian elements are strongest – whether for better or worse depends mostly on one’s taste. It got ‘improvements’ in 1874, 1876 (when he also wrote a new adagio for it), 1877, and finally, in 1888-89. What we have here is the least performed, the 1877 version. Since that alone is not novel enough, in our age of blooming Bruckner recordings, this release adds another twist. A perverse one, you might think. It is the arrangement for piano duo of that symphony. And, to make things a little more interesting, that arrangement (three quarters of it, at any rate) is by none less than Gustav Mahler. In a piece of unbeatable music-geek trivia, this symphony adaptation constitutes Gustav Mahler’s first published work. Even if you have no idea how this thing might sound, you already have the ideal gift for both the obsessive Brucknerian and the obsessive Mahlerian. For those who are both (despite the differences between the composers’ styles, that is a common occurrence) you have secured your spot in that friend’s stocking-stuffer pantheon for all time.

How does it sound, though? Well… as long as you know and think of it to be a perversion, it’s actually quite good. Unlike Bruckner on the organ, the result is not the stunning resemblance that Lionel Rogg achieves with his transcription of Bruckner’s 8th but instead a homespun mimicry that starts out as slightly New Age Bruckner and then goes in its very own directions from there. To the non-purists, though, it might be downright exciting. Obviously it’s a disc for someone who already has too much of most things – but it is not nearly as desperate a novelty as many other CDs. If you have heard the piano duo transcriptions of Mahler’s symphonies you can go from there and imagine the result improved by a wide margin. Two pianos are not able to conjure Echt-Bruckner – but they come a lot closer to his symphony than they do to any of Mahler’s.

The performer, Evelinde Trenkner (here with Sontraud Speidel) has made it her specialty to perform such arrangements: apart from aforementioned Mahler (with Mrs. Zenker – MDG 330 0837) I’ve also gotten a kick out of her performance of the Reger transcription of the Bach Orchestral Suites and Passacaglia (with Mrs. Speidel again – MDG 330 1006). Ultimately these works are a lot more fun to play than listen to, but short of having the requisite skills and a similarly inclined and skilled accomplice, these might put a smile and more on your face. I, for one, have listened to it well over a dozen times in the last few weeks and show no sign of tiring of it yet.

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