Bruckner: Symphony in F minor (Study Symphony); Original finale (Volksfest) to Symphony No. 4

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony in F minor (Study Symphony); Original finale (Volksfest) to Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Georg Tintner
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554432
Bruckner’s early Symphony in F minor has been nicknamed the ‘Study’ Symphony. Until recently I’d have said that the tag was thoroughly deserved – that page after page of the score shrieked ‘useful learning experience’. But Georg Tintner makes a serious case for regarding it as a real, if flawed, early Bruckner symphony. As well as Tintner’s usual firm grasp of the musical architecture, there’s real affection in this performance, particularly in the meditative outer sections of the slow movement and the exhilarating scherzo – Bruckner’s genius for writing gripping scherzos seems to have been with him right from the start. As a whole, the performance is much more compelling than the worthy but expressively low-key Inbal version on Teldec. It just shows what difference the quality of a performance can make to the apparent quality of a piece of music.

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It will take stronger advocacy than Tintner’s, though, to convince me that the 1878 ‘Volksfest’ finale of the Fourth Symphony is a viable alternative to the familiar 1880 version, imperfect though that may be. The massive unison figures of the third theme sound pretty feeble – though I doubt if even Furtwängler could have forced much life into them. But there are passages where Bruckner’s imagination is working at full power – the weirdly flickering opening theme for instance – and I can’t help feeling they could be presented with more conviction. Still, it’s good to have a reasonably reliable, well-recorded version in the catalogue at last, if only to add another chapter in the often strange story of how Bruckner arrived at his final thoughts. Stephen Johnson