Bruckner Symphony No. 4 in E flat
In June 2010 Daniel Barenboim conducted the Staatskapelle Berlin in Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos 4-9, programming the six works on six nearly consecutive evenings in the Philharmonie. This DVD is apparently the first in a series covering those performances, and it bodes well for the rest. This is a first-rate performance of this warmest-coloured and most Schubertian of Bruckner’s symphonies, superbly conceived and magnificently played. No. 4, performed here in the familiar 1880 version, is the least obviously architectural of the series, and yet its architecture is of course rock-solid. Barenboim masterfully and flawlessly shapes and paces the big paragraphs, maintaining continuity beyond Bruckner’s frequent climactic cut-off points.
German critics found his conception of Bruckner ‘very theatrical’, but I would characterise it rather, in this work at least, as a reading entirely without frills or artificial drama: as well as its innate Romanticism Barenboim allows the underlying elemental nature of the music to emerge, and at times seems almost to let it play itself. He himself seems to radiate an inner stillness out of which the Symphony can grow. Every now and then he registers delight, as if the music is happening independent of him, and his rapport with the orchestra is such that there are places (such as the second subject in the finale) where he lets his baton hang unused and merely sculpts the phrases in the air with his left arm. A moving and deeply satisfying performance to watch. The camera-work is efficient, though unremarkable.