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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat, Romantic (1874, 1878/80) [66:12]
ORF Radio-Symphony Orchestra, Vienna/Cornelius Meister
rec. ORF RadioKulturhaus, Vienna, September 2012
CAPRICCIO C5150 [66:12]

Cornelius Meister's Romantic is very much a young man's Bruckner, at its best in those passages that move straightforwardly. In the first movement, the forthright, compact tuttis at 1:53 and 8:36 don't strain at metaphysics. The climax at 16:23 is unbuttoned, and Meister draws a bit of anxiety out of the following passage. In the Andante, the first two bars — accompaniment waiting for a tune — actually feel like a phrase, for once; the broad melody, once it enters, flows steadily, and the movement is full of colour. The hunting-horn Scherzo is paced well, and its simple, charming Trio doesn't stray far its basic pulse. In the Finale, the steady quarter-notes at the start immediately establish a sense of unease, the good way, and Meister bridges sections with a nice sweep.
 
A young man's interpretation brings with it a young man's indiscretions. Some tuttis in the first and third movements are allowed to creep faster, dissipating their cumulative power. In the process, some important arrival points are muddled — including the Finale's final peroration — though earlier such spots, such as that at 12:28 in the atmospheric Andante, are firmly marked. The terraced accelerations between the Finale's second and third themes feel natural, but the further one at 4:34, while ostensibly conforming to the score, simply sounds unsettled.
 
On the other hand, the conductor also adopts the occasional unmarked ritard — some of which are sanctioned by scores of dubious provenance, like the old Eulenburg — and allows some marked ones to begin too early. Such adjustments sacrifice the long line to questionable "expression", and produce unkempt ensemble in the bargain, not only in busy passages in the Scherzo and Finale, but at exposed, lightly scored spots such as 5:58 in the first movement.
 
The ORF, or Austrian Radio, orchestra hasn't recorded as much as the Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna Symphony, or even the orchestra of the Volksoper. The players acquit themselves well here. The violins have a lovely cantabile, and their sound remains clear as they ascend. The reed choir can be a bit whiny, but flute and oboe soar at 12:43 of the Finale. The principal horn is taut and focused in the opening solo, yet can match the clarinet's lightness at 9:00 of the Finale; the section rings out boldly in the codas of the outer movements. Meister, attentive to details of texture and balance, organizes these sonorities well, bringing out the organ-like effect of the woodwinds over the horn pedal at 5:33 of the Andante, and subtly tilting the balance towards the basses in the following passage.
 
The sound quality is deep and brilliant in tutti, underlining the organlike fullness of the textures.
 
This is worth hearing and studying, but poses no threat to anyone's longtime allegiances, mine being Böhm (Decca), Barenboim — yes, Barenboim (DG) — Walter (Sony), and the slightly more recent Blomstedt (Dal Segno).

Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.

Masterwork Index: Bruckner symphony 4