Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, ‘Romantic’ (1880 edition ed. Nowak) [67:08]
Dresden Staatskapelle/Herbert Blomstedt
rec. Dresden, 1981
DAL SEGNO DSPRCD045 [67:08]
This is a fine and idiomatic performance of Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony, which has perhaps become the master’s best-loved work. It was first recorded by Denon in 1981 and now reappears on Dal Segno at an appealing price, making it a competitive option for potential purchasers. That said, Dal Segno include no recording information in their rather thin documentation.
The sound quality is excellent, however, and there is no suggestion that the twenty-year old recording is inadequate. As ever, the spacious first movement sets the tone and scale for the whole. The beginning has a wonderfully atmospheric quality, an E flat tonality which is very similar to that of the opening of Wagner's Das Rheingold, a work that Bruckner new and loved.It is the introductory role of the solo horn, surrounded as it is by tremolando strings, that suggests the work's title, Romantic, and the playing here is exemplary, at once confident, accurate and warm-toned. The atmosphere offered by the acoustic seems just right and recalls that of the monastery of St Florian where Bruckner worked. Blomstedt’s spacious tempo allows the music to expand in an appropriate way. ‘Lively, but not too fast’, says Bruckner, allowing the majesty of the dynamic range to make its mark. The effect is undeniably impressive.
The ensuing dialogues between woodwinds and strings in flowing lyrical music - the latter known as the gesängperiod (song-period) - are played poetically with beautifully judged phrasing. The warmth of the string sound is also most pleasing, recalling that found in the recordings of Gunter Wand, including that master’s last recording of all, made with the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra for RCA (74321 93041 2). Moreover Blomstedt’s performance reaches a most impressive conclusion at the end of the first movement, a peroration that is at once sonically satisfying and deeply logical.
The Andante has an eloquent cello cantilena, whose whispering violin postlude proves the perfect foil. Blomstedt’s attention to the details of dynamic shading reap just rewards. Perhaps the restrained, meditative chorale, and the beautiful viola melody related to it, might have found just a little more poetry, but the tempo matches Bruckner’s Andante marking. The magnificent, epic climax towards the close is deeply satisfying.
The Symphony No. 4 was composed in 1874, but in 1878 and 1880 Bruckner revised it, replacing the original scherzo and completely reworking the finale. The work thus created received a successful premiere under Hans Richter in Vienna, on 20 February 1881. The chief reason for its initial success was the new scherzo movement, one of the most directly appealing examples of Bruckner's art. Blomstedt and the Dresden orchestra respond to the atmospheric orchestration and the thrilling horn fanfares, with their hunting allusions. The music builds to a powerful and exciting climax, which is balanced by a lyrical trio of magical calm.
The finale resumes the more purposeful agenda of the first movement, and is built on the large scale. Out of the restrained opening a huge and massive climax is generated, while once again there is the lyrical music of a gesängperiod to provide the balance of contrast. And the final phase, replete with full orchestral sonority, sounds suitably impressive.
Blomstedt recorded the symphony again with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 2006, but a quarter of a century on, it surely proved hard to better this Dresden version as either recording or interpretation.
A fine and idiomatic performance of Bruckner’s best-loved work, recorded by Denon in 1981 and now reappears on Dal Segno at an appealing price.
see also review by Stephen Vasta