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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 4 in E flat Romantic (Version of 1880, revised 1886 ed. Nowak) [66:34]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Giuseppe Sinopoli
rec. Dresden Lukaskirche, September 1987
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 423 677-2 [66:58]

In 2001 Giuseppe Sinopoli died suddenly whilst conducting; he was 54 and had been principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden for some years.

The present disc presents his first Bruckner recording. Over the following twelve years he went on to record the third, fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth, and was presumably intending to complete a cycle. The fifth was the last to be recorded and has received considerable critical acclaim. Indeed, it is undoubtedly the finest version of that work I have yet heard.

When John Quinn and I wrote about Bruckner Symphonies last year (link) I chose it as one of my top five Bruckner symphony recordings. Before this disc arrived, I had not heard any of Sinopoli’s other Bruckner recordings and at present, only this and the fifth seem to be available - the latter is currently at bargain price. As Marc Bridle’s obituary made clear (link), critical opinion has often been very negative about Sinopoli but his Bruckner had considerable virtues.

I probably have more versions of Bruckner 4 on the shelves than any other (twelve) and to make comparisons with them all would be very time-consuming. But I don’t need to re-listen to others to express some confidence that this is one of the best-sounding, if not the best. The acoustic is perfect for the composer, orchestra just far enough back in the sound perspective and the recording very detailed. Textures are beautifully layered, aided by violins divided left and right. Most of the credit for the judicious balances should probably go to Sinopoli - you can just about hear every note that Bruckner wrote. The orchestral playing is first-class and one senses that the players have this music in their soul. It now seems hard to believe but this recording was made behind the "iron curtain" – how life has moved on in less than twenty years.

In terms of interpretation, there is a similar, objective approach to the work that pervades Sinopoli’s later recording of the fifth. My feeling is that it suits that work rather better. This is, after all, the Romantic symphony and I suspect that most listeners will want a bit more warmth and feeling. For that, I would turn to Karl Böhm’s 1973 Vienna recording which remains at the top of my pile. Klemperer also takes an objective view of this work (review) – even more so perhaps and his tempi were also often surprisingly quick. By contrast, Sinopoli paced each movement perfectly and he took no liberties at all with Bruckner’s tempo indications. Perhaps the most obvious comparison is with Eugen Jochum in his recording with the same orchestra in the same venue made twelve years earlier. Sinopoli’s and Jochum’s views are at opposite ends of the spectrum: the latter was very free and easy with tempi and was accorded a recording that sounds rather crude by the side of this one. Sinopoli wins hands down.

For the record Sinopoli’s movement time out as follows:-

(i) Bewegt, nicht zu schnell [18:47]
(ii) Andante quasi Allegretto [16:00]
(iii) Scherzo. Bewegt – Nicht zu schnell. Keinesfalls schleppend – Scherzo [11:01]
(iv) Finale. Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell [20:56]

This may not be a first-choice for the fourth symphony but it is a rather classical and dispassionate interpretation in very fine sound. Let us hope that DG will re-issue the other Sinopoli Bruckner recordings, preferably collected together in an economical way.

Patrick C Waller


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