LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Bruckner
WORKS: Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Orchestre des Champs-Élysées/Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901921
In his excellent notes for this CD, Habakuk Traber explores convincingly the reasons why Bruckner called this his ‘Romantic’ Symphony, and points to intriguing possible connections with Wagner’s Lohengrin. It accompanies a performance that also has insights to offer. The sound of the grainy gut strings (superbly recorded) in Bruckner’s tremolos is significantly different from the ethereal wash of a modern high-class string section, and the 19th-century valved horns are wonderfully flavoursome. Also welcome is Herreweghe’s concern for articulation – something Bruckner took a lot of trouble over in his scores (though you’d never guess that from some modern performances). It’s particularly striking when it comes to the bass parts – observe Bruckner’s markings sensitively and this music can be surprisingly light on its feet, even when it isn’t moving particularly fast. Herreweghe also makes an outstandingly good case for the much-criticized finale as a piece of symphonic architecture.
All very laudable, of course, but for me the overall impression is like a journey that one is glad to have made, but which was never very moving or exciting along the way. Authentic this performance may be from certain musicological standpoints, but authentically Romantic? I fear not. Günter Wand’s 1997 live recording with the Berlin Philharmonic comes far closer to the ideal: richly atmospheric, impassioned but dignified, it also shows unusual respect for Bruckner’s painstaking articulation markings. There is also a Schubertian charm in passages like the Scherzo’s central folksong trio section that Herreweghe also misses. A worthwhile effort, but one that falls short of the ideal. Stephen Johnson