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Recordings

Anton Bruckner: Symphony no. 4
16 Feb 2007

BRUCKNER: Symphony no. 4

Perhaps the best-known of Anton Bruckner’s symphonies, the Fourth also benefits from a number of fine recordings.

Anton Bruckner: Symphony no. 4 “Romantic”

Orchestre des Champs-Élysees, Philippe Herreweghe, conductor

Harmonia Mundi HMC 901921 [CD]

$18.99  Click to buy

In approaching this work, Philippe Herreweghe contributes a well-thought interpretation of Leopold Nowak’s edition of the 1878/80 version of the work to the discography of this familiar Symphony. Within Bruckner’s expansive structures, the details of performance are crucial for a successful execution, and the Herreweghe commands attention to finer points that support the architecture of this score.

Under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe, the Orchestre des Champs-Élysees meets the challenges of this score well. As popular as Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony is, the performers should have no problem in approaching the music, but that same familiarity can also draw comparisons of this performance with others, be it on recording or in live concerts. From that perspective, the new recording offers a convincing, solid, and even reading of this well-known work. As with Bruckner’s other symphonies, the extroverted passages require solid musicians to execute the various passages that echo the full stops of an organ, and the players are well suited to the task. The relentless horn parts are balanced well by the rest of the brass and winds, with the string texture at the core of the work supporting the fuller textures of the first movement, and also the chamber-music-like demands of the second. Such apposite demands can challenge any ensemble, and the ability to arrive at a convincing reading that sustains the intensity through the conclusion of this cyclic work is laudable.

Throughout the recording the brass are clearly present without overbalancing the winds and strings. Attacks are solid clear, with a nice, ringing tone that resonates well within the overall acoustic balance. Such playing is evident in the opening of the Scherzo, in which the horns set the tone for the rest of the brass in this well-known movement. In fact, Herreweghe is careful to allow the sonorities to ring at various points before proceeding from one section to another. IN that movement some of the quieter passages contain nuances that some conductors do not capture as well, and those interested in this performance may wish to sample this movement to get a sense of Herreweghe’s approach to the work.

The strings are full and could, at times, be stronger sounding. This may be the result of the recording process which is, in fact, otherwise effective. Despite this quibble, the chromatic passages that Bruckner uses in various transitions in the first movement demonstrate the ability of the strings to move together as a unit, suggesting in some places the kind of ensemble associated with chamber music. The woodwinds are similarly engaging in this performance, with the tutti passages reflecting a well-rehearsed and sensitive section. At times the louder passages seem to absorb the individual colors, but the woodwinds manage to maintain their presence in such places.

A solid recording, the sound is mastered well to preserve some of the nuances that Herreweghe brings out. At some crucial points, as the opening of the last movement, the amplitude of the recording backs off just a bit, thus reinforcing the tension already present in the harmonic dimension. Other details emerge in this movement, which has more breadth than sometimes encountered in the concert hall. If Herreweghe is, at times, subtle, it is not at the expense of the overt gestures which, as a result, are more dramatic in such a context.

One of Bruckner’s more popular works, it is difficult to single out any one recording that might serve as a benchmark, but Herreweghe’s recent release stands well alongside others for the clarity and attention to detail that this work deserves. The accompanying notes by Habakuk Traber provide some background information on the genesis of the Fourth Symphony and help to share with listeners the complex situation that exists with the versions and revisions that are endemic with Bruckner’s music. In choosing this version of the work, Herreweghe has given it a reading that deserves attention.

James Zychowicz

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