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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 4 in E-flat major, WAB104 (1881 ed. Haas)
Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra/Tatsuya Shimono
rec. live 15 November 2020, Symphony Hall, Osaka
BRAIN MUSIC OSBR 37010 [66:05]

Yet another live recording from the Land of the Rising Sun where Bruckner is now surely performed more often than anywhere else. I made their recording of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony from this same source (review) one of my Recordings of the Year 2020, so had high expectations of this new issue. It stands to reason that not all such issues can be as desirable as those already on offer in an extensive and even overloaded catalogue but most recent Japanese recordings of Bruckner symphonies are never less than competent and many are of superlative quality, both sonically and artistically; this is just such another release.

The secure, if slightly watery, horns immediately establish the right mood of febrile expectation. There is not much glamour about this orchestra’s sound and Shimono keeps it lean with minimal vibrato, but tight ensemble, apt phrasing with some pointed accentuation and carefully graded dynamics all combine to deliver excellence; the first orchestral climax eight minutes in is stern and compelling, with sonorous brass and shimmering strings. They build up a real head of steam heading for the paradoxically noble and raucous climax of the first movement. The beginning of the Andante is more restrained and understated than usual, creating a wistful, even mournful, ambiance which is rather striking; it is beautifully juxtaposed with the ensuing little dance section beginning at 6:25 which soon defaults into gloom before the reprise of the opening, main theme. The final climax, as with the first movement, is simply splendid before the brief coda re-establishes a reflective sobriety – Shimono really welds and melds these sections into a coherent structure. There is a celebratory release about the start of the Scherzo and its tricky, syncopated rhythms are skilfully and deftly negotiated. The Trio is a little oasis of pastoral calm, neatly contrasting the ebullience of the outer sections. The grimly determined finale immediately engages the listener with the horn’s baleful admonitions over pulsing strings and the timpanist and brass consolidate the mood by the vehemence of their attack in the first, early climax. The movements unfolds seamlessly and when that final, oracular horn call sounds, heralding the cataclysmic conclusion, I get the genuine goosebumps only the finest performances can arouse. This is heroic, thrilling Bruckner from an orchestra which might not have the sonority of the BPO but is giving its all under a conductor immersed in the authentic Brucknerian idiom and delivering a first-rate account of what is perhaps, along with the Seventh, the most popular symphony.

The sound is impeccable and the audience appears to have been bound and gagged - how refreshing not to be distracted by the percussive coughing which is still too often a feature of live concerts; certain audiences could learn a thing or two about respect for the music and their fellow-listeners from the one here in Osaka.

I admit that previous to my nomination of its Bruckner Fifth last year I knew nothing about this orchestra or its conductor beyond the fact that it has always, since its foundation in 1963, been under the direction of Japanese conductors and that on the evidence of that recording and this new one, they really know how Bruckner should go. As either an introduction to the Fourth or as a supplement to the collection of the aficionado, this recording deserves serious consideration, even if there are plenty of others in the running.

Ralph Moore
(This review reproduced here by kind permission of The Bruckner Journal)

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