Bruckner: Symphony No.4

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COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: C Major
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in E flat (Romantic); No. 7 in E
PERFORMER: Munich Philharmonic/ Christian Thielemann
CATALOGUE NO: C major 701908 (

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Bruckner’s two most popular symphonies on one DVD, conducted by Christian Thielemann whom many consider to be the inheritor of the great German tradition of ‘heavies’ such as Klemperer, Furtwängler and Knappertsbusch, looks a tempting prospect. Up to a point it lives up to its promise, but that is mainly thanks to the orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic.

I have long thought that this is one of the world’s great orchestras, though it is never mentioned as such; but before Celibidache and Levine, Thielemann’s two predecessors, it was already a magnificent ensemble.

Celibidache gave it an astounding precision and flexibility, quite independent of his own addiction to phenomenally slow tempos. Levine did nothing to spoil that, and now Thielemann elicits the same kind of sleek sounds from them, while adhering to a quite different tradition of interpretation. 

Thielemann favours surges of tempo as climaxes approach, as well as immense silences; but the kind of portentousness he invokes should go with a more rugged sound, and the total impression of these two performances is of wonderful passages, glorious sounds, with stagnation and lifelessness in between.

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At the end of each performance Thielemann keeps his hands aloft, to ensure the preservation of a ‘sacred silence.’ But the performances don’t justify that.