Anton BRUCKNER (1824 –1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, Romantic (1878/88 revised version) [73:27]
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
rec. December 2007, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto
TSO LIVE [73:27]
With the announcement of the details of Peter Oundjian’s first season as Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 2012/13, it is timely to consider this performance. Oundjian (b. 1955) is a Canadian violinist and conductor, born in Toronto, who became Music Director of the Toronto Symphony in 2004. From what I have read it seems that the Toronto orchestra was in a pretty parlous state when he took over as MD and that he is widely credited as a leading factor in the subsequent restoration of its fortunes. I believe he intends to retain that post in addition to his new commitments in Scotland. His background is interesting. He took up conducting after a fifteen-year stint as first violinist with the renowned Tokyo String Quartet. As he revealed in an interview with The Scotsman newspaper when his appointment to the RSNO was announced, that retirement, in 1995, was something of an enforced move because he had developed a repetitive strain injury. Not that he should be regarded as a reluctant conductor; he says he was ready for the move and took the view that one door had closed and another was opening.
This Bruckner Fourth comes from live performances in the TSO’s regular concert hall. I don’t know from how many performances this recording may have been compiled but I didn’t detect any obvious evidence of editing. The performance is a good one. The first movement is judiciously paced; the basic tempo is sufficiently broad as to allow the majesty to register but the speed is definitely not sluggish. The orchestra sound is clean but has ample weight where required – the brass section makes its presence felt but never overwhelms. There’s good work by the wind principals and, crucially, by the first horn. The string section produces a sound that has sheen and body. (Sample the section in I between 11:12 and 11:55). Oundjian controls the flow of the music well, using dynamic contrasts effectively and handling Bruckner’s trademark crescendi very well. There’s welcome energy at times also (for example between 8:30 and 9:35). The conductor seems to me to have a sound grasp of the music’s architecture and I found his reading convincing.
The above comments apply to the remaining three movements also. In the second movement the strings in particular have opportunities to show their worth and they take them. Once again Oundjian’s control of speeds is convincing. There’s good momentum in the ‘hunting’ passages of III – I liked the crisp playing from the horn and trumpet sections. The trio (from 4:35) is aptly described in the notes as “amiable” and that’s how it comes across here. The finale can sound episodic and I think that for this reason it’s the hardest movement for a conductor to pull off. However, Peter Oundjian lays out a pretty convincing narrative. Once or twice I felt his approach was slightly impetuous but these instances were brief and not so significant as to mar my overall enjoyment.
My overall verdict is that this is a convincing and enjoyable performance and one that is very well played. If this is typical of Peter Oundjian’s achievement to date in Toronto then I’d say the Royal Scottish National Orchestra has made a pretty shrewd choice. The recorded sound is good. There’s a wide dynamic range, as one needs in Bruckner, and the engineers present the orchestral sound with plenty of body and definition. Though there is applause at the end – swiftly faded out – there is otherwise no audience noise that I detected, even through headphones.
Details of this and other live recordings by the Toronto Symphony and Peter Oundjian can be found on the orchestra’s website.
A convincing and enjoyable live Bruckner Fourth from Toronto.
Masterwork Index: Symphony 4