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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major (WAB 104 1888 ed. Korstvedt) [74:00]
Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
rec. live, St Florian Basilika, Austria, 1 September 2012
Blu-Ray: Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Region 0
DVD: Sound Format PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround; Picture Format 16:9 Region 0
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 Surround reviewed
101 682 [74:00]

On this occasion it was possible compare the DVD and Blu-Ray versions even though the majority of viewing and listening was to the Blu-Ray. There are some differences between the disc menus. The Blu-Ray has nothing except the options to play the disc or watch the trailers of other Arthaus issues. The only way to select the DTS MA surround track was via the player remote. The DVD had not only menu selections for sound but also for the four movements of the symphony. This made the DVD easier to use. However, though the DVD is perfectly acceptable in all respects, the picture and sound were noticeably superior on the Blu-Ray. Given the excellent camera-work and sound recording provided by director Brian Large and his team the Blu-Ray must be the choice. The sound is not absolutely perfect, pp often sounds clearer than ff, but given the difficulty of reproducing the huge dynamic range of a Bruckner symphony in one's home this is hardly surprising.
Not at all acceptable on either format is the presence of bleeding chunks of Bruckner over the disc menus. I repeat, music when the music starts please, Arthaus and not before. In this sublime symphony it is a particularly egregious assault on the ears to have arbitrary bits of music thrust upon one before even settling to listen. Use audience noise if you must show that the sound is there.
The edition used here is clearly stated, along with an extensive note in the booklet. I have to say that it is just as well, because he has gone for the recent, and highly controversial , 'arrangement' of the 1888 version by Benjamin Korstvedt. Bruckner editions are amongst the most tiresome issues in classical music because they seem so remote and academic yet have considerable impact on the listener. If one has grown up with the standard Haas edition of 1936 or the Nowak of 1953, the ones used by such as Klemperer, Jochum, Böhm and Karajan, then this is going to be a disturbing performance. Things keep happening that one is not expecting: phrase shapes, tempos, even entire chunks of score, are different and sometimes missing. This makes one listen closely but because Korstvedt's decisions have caused such division amongst scholars there is the uneasy feeling that something is not just different but actually 'wrong'. For example: the edition can be said to wreck the scherzo, cutting the horn fanfares first time round in a most damaging way and foreshortening the scherzo reprise; there are cymbals at two places in the finale, one fortissimo and one pianissimo and there is a surprising doubling of woodwind for tuttis, turning the instrumental doublings Bruckner asks for into instrumental quadrupling, which he did not. The finale suffers from both reorganisation and changed development.
There can be no question that the Cleveland Orchestra play superbly throughout and that Welser-Möst is every inch the master interpreter. He directs a very grand view of Bruckner's great work. Special mention must be made of the wonderful viola section, but everyone plays their hearts out such that even the conductor is visibly moved at several points in the finale. This too, is in contrast with the 7th Symphony disc where I noted that he and the orchestra seemed a trifle detached. The audience is mostly quiet save for a few ill-timed coughs in the finale. They stay silent for a satisfying few seconds at the end before giving the performers a well deserved standing ovation: though I'm not sure Bruckner would have approved of such a demonstration in his beloved St. Florian.
Again I am a trifle muted in my enthusiasm for the performance. This is a very fine Bruckner Fourth but the edition makes me uneasy and there are High Definition alternatives of standard versions from Thielemann (Nowak, 1953) and Barenboim (Haas, 1936).
Dave Billinge 

Masterwork Index: Bruckner 4