Bruckner: Symphony No. 4
The Baroque monastery church of St Florian, which lies about ten miles from the city of Linz in Austria, is the natural home of Bruckner performances. As the church’s organist, Bruckner knew the edifice’s resonant acoustics well; and every conductor must feel awe at the thought of the composer’s body
and spirit buried below their feet in the crypt.
Franz Welser-Möst, never too exciting to watch, conducts with fastidious reverence in this 2012 performance. At his most animated he only suggests a nervously foraging woodland creature; though after ten years as their music director perhaps startled glances are all his Cleveland Orchestra players need.
Their musicianship is certainly refined: check out the suave phrasing lavished upon the famously naïve melody in the third movement’s trio. Yet there is robust lustre too, spectacularly in the finale’s noble brass statements, highlighted by video director Brian Large’s sidelong shots of golden tubing. The cameras’ various surveys of frescoes, stonework and vaulting space are equally apt for a composer whose symphonies reguarly find themselves referred to as ‘cathedrals in sound’.
Two aspects of the musical performance, however, may make the potential purchaser pause. For all that Welser-Möst is skilled at grasping long-span structures, the interpretation here – generally cool, calm and collected – is that of an engineer, not a visionary.
Then there is the matter of the edition used. Welser-Möst has opted for the 1888 printed version, as edited in 2004 by the American scholar Benjamin Korstvedt, featuring selective cuts and lighter instrumental textures. The conductor doesn’t exactly make
the most compelling case for it.
You can’t say the same about the St Florian setting, however, which is authentic Bruckner to the core.