Robert Cowan
Gramophone
April 2014

Arrangements such as this exceptionally skilful chamber reworking of Bruckner's Second Symphony by Anthony Payne were meat and potatoes to Schoenberg's Society for Private musical Performance. What you get is the full run of scaffolding minus a few bars (ie some optional cuts), and a lack of repeats in the Scherzo. To say that clarity is a pay-off is rather to state the obvious, and the same goes for a sense of intimacy, but neither virtue would be desirable if the playing of the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble was less exceptional than it is, or the sound quality less present.

The vital question is: does Payne's transcription pay dividends that are as high for the listener as they are for the players, Bruckner's language being so securely wedded to the meaty sound of a full orchestra? Not so sure, to be honest. But have those pulsing opening semiquavers (here on two violins and viola) ever sounded quite so reminiscent of the opening of Beethoven's Ninth? The ominous exchanges between cello, trumpet and later the rest of the orchestra—settling down eventually to woodwinds chattering above the timpani drone—hardly compromise on the atmosphere. Trevor Pinnock keeps to a very steady tempo, unfolding each paragraph with a sense of inevitability that compensates in structural terms for what it lacks, or for what we might miss, in terms of sonority. And yet he's never for a moment inflexible.

The fluttering flutes in the development section (set against agitated pizzicatos) are especially effective and so is the tender string phrasing at the start of the slow movement, though the big climax from 9'29" is one point where clarity is less obvious than it might have been. The Scherzo's Trio works especially well and there are times in the finale where the music takes flight in a way that I've virtually never heard in an orchestral performance (just get that piano). Those passages alone would deem the disc an enjoyable supplement to your existing Bruckner collection. Alban Berg's colour-conscious arrangement of Strauss's Wine, Women and Song (where the harmonium plays a very prominent role), lustily played, is both an appropriate and a happy conclusive fill-up.