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Bruckner sy4 PASC666

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Symphony No 4 in E-flat major, ‘Romantic’ (revised 1888 version)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. live, 29 October 1952, Deutsches Museum, Munich

My point of comparison with this new remastering of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony from Pristine is the DG Dokumente issue of the live concert recorded in Stuttgart the week before this one. That Stuttgart performance has long been the preferred account, not for reasons of any interpretative superiority – there were hardly likely to be any major differences among any of the six performances Furtwängler and the VPO gave between the 5th and 29th October 1950 while on tour - but because the sound of the concert recorded in Munich here was previously always so poor. That is no longer the case now that Andrew Rose has brought to bear upon it the full range of his XR Remastering techniques, which include mitigating intrusive audience noise and enhancing the sound all round by converting it into Ambient Stereo. There is still some intrusive coughing but it is not so irritating; by and large, this new Pristine issue renders the DG version essentially redundant.

It is also the case that the Stuttgart performance begins with two regrettable cracks from the principal horn, which hardly sets up the listener in the right frame of mind, and even here he bobbles in his very first note, but the error is not so egregious. After that, all goes well. Different conductors though they be, Furtwängler shared the same gift possessed by Knappertsbusch (who played the same version) for creating a sense of occasion and spontaneity without allowing the music to disintegrate into showy point-making; both have a coherent vision of how they want the symphony as a whole to unfold and neither could ever be accused of boring the listener. Furtwängler pushes on, then reins back, freely applying rubato and phrasing flexibly without losing his grip over proceedings. The principal horn is now on form and first great climax of blaring brass over shimmering strings exactly halfway through is thrilling, as is the magnificent chorale in which the first movement culminates. He makes a stronger statement than Kna in the Andante; there is deeper sense of tragedy running through the almost aggressive pizzicato strokes which punctuate the prevailingly bucolic atmosphere and lower strings sound broody, contrasting with the serene flute riffs. Perhaps the vividness of the sound Pristine provide newly accentuates a menace which had previously remained latent in its dimmer incarnations but I am sure we are here hearing something much closer to what the Stuttgart audience heard in 1951. Again, the conclusion to the movement is momentous, even ominous. The Scherzo differs from Furtwängler’s 1941 account in that he plays the da capo section complete, without making the optional cut in the Schalk edition. Its release and headlong drive are almost shocking; this is music-making which takes risks and sometimes imprecisions result - but they are a price worth paying. Yet again, the conclusion is coruscating and points forward to the demonic propulsion of the finale – indeed, Pristine’s catalogue number for this 66-minute performance happens to be the “Number of the Beast” – and it is certainly a devil of an account, blazing with an almost infernal energy.

Ralph Moore

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