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20.5.06

Dip Your Ears, No. 60 (Bruckner's 4th)

available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.4,
P.Herreweghe / Orchestre des Champs-Elysées
Harmonia Mundi

available at AmazonBöhm / WPh
DG

UK | DE | FR

available at AmazonBarenboim / CSO
DG

UK | DE | FR

available at AmazonWand (V) / BPh
RCA

UK | DE | FR

available at AmazonG.Wand (VII) / NDRSO
RCA

UK | DE | FR

available at AmazonH.v.Karajan / BPh
EMI

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available at AmazonKubelik / BRSO
Sony

UK | DE | FR
Philip Herreweghe continues with Bruckner after he surprised me with a very fine (despite derision in some quarters), “historically correct” 7th symphony last year. Employing gut strings and minimal vibrato, Herreweghe digs in with his Orchestre des Champs-Elysee and comes up with another, this time somewhat more qualified, success. Wisely, Herreweghe, ever less dogmatic than HIP pioneer Sir Roger Norrington, chooses the second, 1878 version of Bruckner’s 4th (amalgamated with the 1880/81 "Volksfest" finale), not the interesting but ultimately inferior original version that lacks the "hunting" Scherzo. (The latter was played by the NSO under Norrington last year.)

Where Herreweghe succeeds are the moments that gather energy; his band is best at the (many) musical peaks of the symphony, where they achieve rousing, thrilling moments. He is less successful in the softer moments – but given the smaller orchestral forces that might not be surprising: the fewer players, the more difficult it becomes to create a beautiful pianissimo. (The inversion was demonstrated in ideal form when Mariss Jansons had his complete, Heldenleben-sized Concertgebouw Orkest play the Haydn encore in perfect ppp.) The horn call of the first movement’s introduction sounds ever so slightly insecure, and the repetition of the call over strings is not the paragon of steadiness. But come the tutti at 1’45”, the first movement is well under way. The second movement takes much time to gather requisite momentum before it changes from ‘pleasing’ to ‘exciting’. If there were accuracy problems with the winds in the first movement, they are gone by the third movement where the horns dance nimbly along the strings. Timbres and nuance are exemplary and mark the appeal of this recording.

Compared to other versions, however, the interpretation is a tad choppy. Brucknerites with an open mind will want to hear and probably find pleasure. Other Brucknerites will sneer. Newcomers to the Bruckner 4th will fare better with other recordings, though. There is, for one, Karl Böhm’s seminal recording for Decca. It was one of the few ‘great’ Bruckner recordings that I had not actually had in my collection until recently. A grave omission, as it turns out. Böhm is simply unequalled in propulsion and drive. His 4th never stalls, always sounds like it must go on, always sounds as if the music to come next was the only logical progression. You can’t stop listening to it. His Vienna forces play magnificently, the sound is very good. It is to the 4th what Günter Wand’s live Berlin recording is to the 8th. Rafael Kubelik, another conductor who seemed near-incapable of doing any wrong, offers the most liquid account: where Herreweghe steps over slabs of granite, Kubelik swims through liquid stone. That isn’t the most impressive way to do it (at least not upon first hearing), but the cogency makes one come back time and again. (Sadly the Kubelik is currently only available from Japan.)

The great Daniel Barenboim, a sub-par Brucknerian to my ears, delivers the most impressive 4th on record in his earlier, Chicago recording. It is brash, with its fanfare-touting brass, it is a thrill, it is cheap (metaphorically and literally) and sacrifices Brucknerian spirit for orchestral splendor. The effect is calculated but then also undeniable. That and the great recorded sound and the price make this an easy (grudgingly granted) second choice for those to be initiated to the 4th. Günter Wand’s several recordings are broad but never overwhelming, slender in tone, carefully thought out, self-effacing, beautifully done. I love the two late takes I have, preferring the live recording with the NDR (coupled with my by far favorite Schubert 5th) over the - also live - Berlin recording by a slight margin. Still, my particular penchant for Wand taken into consideration, Böhm must still be the first choice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

to me, there is only Kabasta