Bruckner: Symphony No. 4; Wagner: Lohengrin – Prelude

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Andris Nelsons (DG)

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CD_4797577_Bruckner_cmyk

Bruckner Symphony No. 4; Wagner Lohengrin – Prelude
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Andris Nelsons
DG4797577 79:24 mins

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Andris Nelsons is quickly establishing himself as a leading Brucknerian, with an orchestra that is located quite close to the other contender for the key position, Christian Thielemann. Both their orchestras are magnificent, though with somewhat different emphases. The conductors are very different indeed, Nelsons offering free-flowing accounts which recall some of the older Brucknerians. This disc starts with the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Lohengrin, that ‘first example of hypnotism in music’ as Nietzsche called it. Certainly it is hypnotically beautiful here, played with faultless intonation and a sublime crescendo. It took me a bit of time to adjust to Bruckner’s misty opening, wonderful, beautiful as that is. It always makes me expect that the rest of the symphony will be up to the same standard, and it never is. The Fourth Symphony, along with the Third, is the one that Bruckner tampered with most, and over the longest period. One can hear why. He has marvellous material most of the time, but is evidently, as he must have felt, at a loss as to how to develop it – and the Fifth Symphony shows how he came to understand the nature of his gifts in a single bound.

I don’t know if Andris Nelsons would agree with that, but he conducts the Symphony as if he does. It is a fairly leisurely account, encouraging us to listen to what is happening at the moment rather than what is going to emerge from or follow it. That is fine until we reach the last movement, which is enormous but largely bombast. Still, it is performed here with great conviction, as much as in any recording in recent years.

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Michael Tanner