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Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major (version 1880/1881 - see review) [74:52]
Symphony No. 7 in E major [72.32]
Münchner Philharmoniker/Christian Thielemann
rec. live, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Germany, 2008 (4), 2006 (7)
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround;
Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Region 0. Blu-ray
Surround reviewed
C MAJOR 712304 BLU-RAY [74:52 + 72.32]

The "Bruckner Problem" arises immediately because the 4th is labelled "1880/1881 version" which doesn't tally with any official listing I can find. John F. Berky's definitive website lists this performance as using the edition "1886 (aka 1878/80) - Ed. Leopold Nowak [1953]". The uncontentious 7th is given as "1885 Version. Ed. Leopold Nowak [1954]".
Having got that settled, onto the Blu-ray disc itself. It has a menu system that only allows access to titles and sound after choosing your symphony. I do wonder about this habit. Why not just have a proper contents and settings list on the opening page? Once again there is music over the menu system, this time part of the 4th Symphony. It gets more and more irritating as one uses it, especially so as one checks out the trailers for other issues. Silence would do nicely thank you Unitel. The picture is satisfactory but not the sharpest I have seen. The surround sound is excellent as always but listeners will gain from raising the volume to get both detail and impact. The venue in Baden-Baden is an unattractive hall as filmed but at least it doesn't draw ones eye from the orchestra or disturb the sound balance. This last is good despite the spider's web of microphones and cables festooned all over the stage. The camerawork is discreet allowing one to watch the conductor and players without frequent cutting from place to place as sometimes happens.
Christian Thielemann has earned himself quite a reputation for his Bruckner performances, as the booklet essay emphasizes. Its title "The Art of Controlled Ecstasy" tells you just what sort of essay it is, as much marketing puff as information. What it should have contained was the information noted at the start of this review.
On the strength of these two performances recorded two years apart he deserves the plaudits. The overriding impression is of breadth. The movement timings show him to be towards the slower end of the spectrum, particularly in No.4 which ends up even longer than No.7. The broad tempi only add weight and impact and he does not indulge in abrupt changes of gear. This has not always been the case and some regard him less favourably than I do. The parallels with Karajan are clear because he does go for prolonging Bruckner's lines rather than making him 'craggy', though that does not stop him directing the cellos and basses to really dig in to some of the motor rhythms of the scherzi. Since I like Karajan's Bruckner that might explain my satisfaction with this pair of performances. The orchestra appear satisfied as well. There is a nice moment in the 7th when some of the violas, momentarily unoccupied, watch and smile as the cellos play a particularly sonorous passage.
At the end of each work there are little nods of approval between the players. Thielemann certainly has them with him rather than against him - they watch him closely. I cannot praise their playing too highly. Incidentally, the violins are divided, giving lots of nice antiphonal affects.
Dave Billinge 

See also review of DVD release by Rob Maynard

Masterwork Index: Bruckner Symphony 4 ~~ Symphony 7