Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 in Eb Major (Romantic)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 (Romantic)
PERFORMER: Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1746

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The ‘Bruckner versions’ nightmare shows no signs of reaching closure. The first published scores of the symphonies used to be discounted – too much input from well-meaning but uncomprehending friends, it was argued.

Alas, it turns out there’s probably a good deal more genuine Bruckner in the allegedly corrupt 1888 score of the Fourth Symphony than most of us suspected. In his recordings of Sibelius’s ‘originals’, Osmo Vänskä has shown a rare ability to approach each version on its own terms, as a work in its own right.

He now does the same, equally impressively, in the 1888 Bruckner Four. So here for Brucknerites is a timely opportunity to trust their ears and judge whether it actually sounds like Bruckner.

The answer is, yes and no. For some time I’ve felt that the much-maligned cut-and-rewrite in the finale recapitulation is actually an ingenious solution to that movement’s biggest structural problem. This performance largely bears that out. The troubling element is the violins’ held note across the divide – Bruckner doesn’t paper over cracks like this.

The rapid crescendos and diminuendos that soften many of the symphony’s abrupt dynamic contrasts arouse similar feelings of discomfort. If Bruckner was beginning to think in such terms by 1888, why don’t we see the same sort of thing in the original works he was writing then, and later?

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The same goes for the stomach-wrenching cut in the return of the Scherzo. But even if you decide against the score in the end, this finely recorded, authoritative performance will make the process all the more enjoyable. Stephen Johnson