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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 ‘Romantic’ (version 1878/80, edited Robert Haas)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. live, 17 May 2015 Semperoper, Dresden, Germany
Edition Staatskapelle Dresden – Volume 42
PROFIL PH16064 [73.06]

My colleague Michael Cookson has already glowingly reviewed this live performance and provided both background to the choice of version used here – the 1878/80 Haas edition – and outlined the distinguished Bruckner performing tradition of the glorious Staatskapelle Dresden, so I do not propose to reiterate the information he so eloquently provides.

The live recorded sound here is exceptionally fine, the occasional faint cough notwithstanding, both reflecting the excellence of the Semperoper acoustic and matching the majesty of Thielemann’s interpretation. The key to his approach is that he generates enormous grandeur without ever skirting bombast. I momentarily wondered whether I would find his tempi lugubrious, but soon realised that the underlying tension and subtlety of his phrasing and dynamics wholly negate that risk. Several consecutive hearings since, at home and in my car, have confirmed my impression that this is a recording of the highest standard; how I would have liked to have been present. The standard of playing, too, is extraordinary, especially the brass, which is impeccably tuned and mightily imposing without coarseness. Time and again, Thielemann steers the orchestra towards a magnificent climax with unerring pace and control; then that unique Brucknerian “tingle factor”, familiar to the true aficionado, strikes. The impact of the peroration of the first movement is contrasted by delicacy of the ensuing Andante, then Thielemann captures the Dionysian exhilaration of the Scherzo effortlessly without affectation, the lovely Trio relaxing into a paean to Mother Nature surely just as Bruckner intended.

I have long pondered whether the finale maintains the emotional intensity and melodic inspiration of the preceding three movements but playing such as this here allays any doubts. The balance between the swirling strings and blazing brass is ideal and the tremendous conclusion, followed by ten seconds of stunned silence, elicits rapturous applause from the previously virtually silent audience.

Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony has a rich discography and this is by no means the only recommendable recording, even if choice is restricted merely to live performances of the Haas edition only. Tennstedt’s two live recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1981 and the London Philharmonic in the Royal Festival Hall in 1989 are both superb, especially the latter, owing to its special intensity and superior sound; then of course for the True Believers there is Celibidache’s 1989 live recording with the Munich Philharmonic – more of a specialised, or perhaps, acquired, taste.

However, anyone wanting the electricity of a live recording of the Haas edition of this symphony, captured in phenomenal sound, will undoubtedly be satisfied by the acquisition of this Profil issue.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Michael Cookson (Recording of the Month)



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