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Bruckner sy4 C8083
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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, WAB 104, ‘Romantic’ (1878-80) (ed. Korstvedt) [67:56]
‘Volksfest’ finale (1880) (ed. Korstvedt) [15:21]
Bruckner Orchestra Linz (symphony), ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (Volksfest)/Markus Poschner
rec. 16-19 February 2021, Rehearsal Hall, Musiktheater, Linz (symphony); 29 November 2021, Radiokulturhaus, Vienna (Volksfest)
Bruckner 2024 - The Complete Versions Edition
CAPRICCIO C8083 [83:16]

The latest issue in Markus Poschner’s Bruckner 2024 project to record all eighteen of the versions of his symphonies in which Bruckner had a hand comes now to the most frequently performed version of the Fourth Symphony and offers as a bonus the Volksfest (County Fair) finale, which Bruckner replaced with the one now normally heard, written between 1878 and 1880.

This recording of Benjamin Korvstedt’s edition of these follows close on the Accentus Music label’s very successful release of all three versions of the Fourth plus the Volksfest by Jakub Hrůša (see my review), while Gerd Schaller has already long since released William Carragan’s edition of that discarded and three separate versions of the Fourth. We were already spoilt for choice regarding which version we wished to hear and this latest release adds yet another option – and a very welcome one, too.

Everything is right about the opening lead in to the first grand brass chorale – phrasing, dynamics, tempi are all perfect, creating that sense of expectation and excitement a well-executed beginning to this symphony generates before it relaxes into the first bucolic melody then suddenly picks up tension with a daring accelerando at 4:13. Poschner is very good as engineering little of changes of pace and volume to underline mood without sounding affected or self-conscious. He maintains the essential thread of the mysterious and gnomic throughout this movement; no matter how many times you may have heard this wonderful music you want it to surprise and delight. The aggression with which he restates the main theme at 9:11 is really gripping, too; menace combines with mystery before the magical horn call at 10:13 recalls “faery lands forlorn” – this is stupendous Bruckner playing and Poschner’s grip is sustained throughout until the horn concludes with a triumphant leap up a fifth from the tonic, fortissimo.

The Andante is similarly perfectly judged and we have the opportunity hear how beautifully this orchestra sings in unison with a depth of sonority as fine as any. There is no indulgence here, just an embracing of the gently ironic charms of the funeral march through a sunlit forest proleptic of Mahler’s First Symphony. If ever we want to hear how the “andante” here should go, Poschner has cracked it. The “Hunting Scherzo” is wonderfully animated and energised, making the most of the “Bruckner rhythm” fanfares and featuring some especially adept flute-playing; the Trio is a brief haven of melodic calm.

The finale eschews the suggestions of “programme music” contained in the previous three movements and moves into the realms of the “absolute” yet Poschner makes the opening so grand, and ominous that the listener can scarce refrain from conjuring up mental images such as an approaching war host. The brass are especially impressive here but Poschner still finds poetry and subtlety to balance the prevailing martial clangour when the music defaults to free-flowing lyricism. The majesty and might of the crucial coda – one of the great conclusions in the symphonic canon – caps a masterful performance.

The contrast between the grandeur of the brass chords and the whimsy of the falling string figure in the opening of the discarded Volksfest finale is incongruous with the cosmic nature of the fourth movement preceding it on this CD but its simpler, more episodic structure contains much which is both recognisable and highly enjoyable, while still pointing to the rightness of Bruckner’s determination to replace it with the final version.

As before, a scholarly and informative article by Prof. Paul Hawkshaw is provided in the booklet. The sound is impeccable. I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed by this superb recording, especially as in addition to a superlative account of the third version of the Fourth Symphony, it includes the bonus of the Volksfest.

Ralph Moore

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