Bruckner Symphony No. 4
Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall in 2008, this CD follows Christoph von Dohnányi’s acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra Decca release in offering a relatively straightforward account of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 that aims for maximum structural cohesion. This strategy is particularly effective in the Finale where Dohnányi avoids the stop-start approach favoured by some conductors, which brings greater cogency to the movement and making its climaxes, in particular the awe-inspiring coda, all the more overwhelming. Hardly surprisingly the audience responds extremely positively to the adrenaline generated by this coda and for once the decision to retain applause on a recording doesn’t seem obtrusive.
Despite some wonderfully atmospheric horn playing in the opening passage, the first movement seems more routine and doesn’t really achieve the same level of intensity. Far more impressive is the slow movement. Although Dohnányi’s tempo is quite slow (somewhat ignoring Bruckner’s marking Andante quasi allegretto), the performance is notable for some really sensitive chamber-music-like interaction between wind and strings and particularly subtle phrasing from the violas in the chorale melody.
The Royal Festival Hall doesn’t perhaps offer the kind of spacious acoustic most suited to Bruckner’s orchestration, and in some of the climaxes the sound is congested with the trumpets predominating at the expense of the horns. Nonetheless, this is a largely enjoyable performance, if not one that ultimately deserves to be considered as a serious alternative to the classic accounts from Karl Böhm (Decca) and Günter Wand (BMG).