Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 in E flat (Romantic)

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WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in E flat (Romantic)
PERFORMER: Hallé Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Here we have two performances of the same symphony which, although they differ by a mere 30 seconds in total playing times of 68 minutes, seem poles apart in most aspects. Although they purport to be the 1878/1880 versions, both Barenboim and Skrowaczewski


add drum rolls, cymbal clashes

and (in Skrowaczewski’s case) even an extra four bars. Barenboim’s version is intensely musical but

not for the purist, for he pulls

the tempi around mercilessly

and changes the score’s original dynamics. Though a self-indulgent reading, it is nevertheless

gloriously played by the Berlin Philharmonic. The strings have a sumptuous lustre in tone, the woodwind solos are refined to perfection with some beautifully shaped nuances, and the brass chorus blazes away throughout.

Though the Hallé strings lack

the BPO’s sheen and Skrowaczewski encourages portamenti rather liberally, their performance is equally committed. At times he takes even more liberties than Barenboim, as in the clarinet solo

in the rather rushed Scherzo, and

his tempo of the Trio completely contradicts Bruckner’s instruction

in the score: ‘in no way dragging’. Overall, Barenboim tends to highlight the symphony’s structure whilst Skrowaczewski presents a more seamless account. The booklet

for the Hallé disc contains some

bizarre errors: ‘Joseph Bruckner’ (why the middle name?) left ‘his 19th symphony unfinished’.

Can we hope to hear those ten

unheard symphonies?


Christopher Fifield