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

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in E flat (Romantic)
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Georg Tintner
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554128
Digging deep into the fabric of the music, wringing tension out of every note, every bass line, Tintner has a style-defining grasp of Bruckner’s repetitive rhythms and long phrases – swinging like gleaming censers in dark cathedral spaces, spiralling starwards, turning cadences into mighty structural pillars – which enables him to master the art of Romantic time. (He was a pupil of Weingartner in Vienna.) Striking touches include the scherzo’s trio theme, which, following Klemperer, is given in the more penetrating, less familiar oboe (replacing flute) and clarinet doubling of the 1944 Haas reprint; and the omission of Nowak’s third/fourth horn reprise of the symphony’s opening motf at the very end (as per the 1880 revision). With imposingly weighty, characterful playing, an ideal acoustic bloom, and exemplary production, this is unmissable.

Advertisement

Ten minutes quicker, less well served orchestrally, and not so imaginatively engineered, the concert account by Harnoncourt is more belligerent than imperious. He claims to have uncovered a host of ‘highly sophisticated’ formal microstructures, yet the episodic outcome, breathlessly signposted by phrase endings that too often slow down or accelerate to accommodate musical or tempo changes, seems to belie this. Taking Bruckner faster at the expense of breadth and detail – something like the wonderfully Haydnesque viola interjections of the finale at 3:33, or the wind detail at 4:00, being more the exception than the rule – neither cleanses nor clarifies his vision.

Advertisement

Reminiscent metaphysically of Celibidache, Tintner’s is the current digital version to have. For a brisker insight (68 minutes plus), Wand’s 1997 Berlin remake, less hauntingly rounded or aristocratic in its horn preface but boasting an extraordinary string opulence and leonine fearsomeness of brass attack reminiscent of analogue Karajan, has to be the other. Ates Orga