Bruckner: Symphony No.4 (Vienna Phil/Thielemann)
Vienna Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann (Sony Classical)
Symphony No. 4 (ed. Haas)
Vienna Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann
Sony Classical 19439914112 69:02 mins
Bruckner’s Fourth is the only symphony to which the composer gave a name, the Romantic, and perhaps its title was the reason for its being the most popular of his symphonies for the longest time. It’s certainly hard to see why it should be called that, when for long stretches ‘Pedantic’ would seem to be a more appropriate characterisation. Admittedly the very opening is dreamily gorgeous, with tremolo horns over shimmering strings, enough to make any listener dewy-eyed. That doesn’t last for long though, and much of the work is hard going. In fact it’s a regression from the Third, which for all its sprawling length has many magical passages, whereas the Fourth – also subject to enormous revisions – often suggests obedience to a preconceived idea of how a symphony should ‘go’.
The third movement Scherzo is Bruckner at his characteristic best, and with the brass of the Vienna Philharmonic barking it out, the result is bound to be exciting.
They have played and recorded it innumerable times of course, the finest recording probably being the one under Claudio Abbado, which glows, is flexible and doesn’t protest too much. This new recording is the latest in Christian Thielemann’s second traversal of the numbered symphonies, and has what are by now his recognisable trademarks. It’s hard to say why the orchestra, gorgeously recorded, sounds so inert, but there is, as usual with this conductor, a pervasive sense of calculation which for me destroys enjoyment. But his many fans won’t be disappointed.