There are five installments, I believe, in Simone YOung's ongoing Bruckner cycle with the Hamburg Philharmonic, an orchestra she has led since 2005. for those of us who haven't encountered her in concert, the Australian-born Young, now 38, has a strong background in opera, having appeared at the Met and the Vienna State Opera, among other high-profile engagements. Opera conducting is unforgiving and soon separates the amateurs from the pros. Clearly Young is a prof, and its shows in her controlled, assured, and exciting Bruckner Fourth. As it happens, the far more famous Mariss Jansons has just released his own Fourth, which turns out to be dull and inflexible compared to Young's -- clearly she's a force to be reckoned with.
Note that we're dealing with the original 1874 edition, which would undergo extensive revision, and a completely new Scherzo, before turning into the finished work most listeners know as the Bruckner fourth. Young does wonders to cover up the weaknesses of Bruckner's first thoughts. In the first movement she's not as intent on estalblishing the mystery and awe of Bruckner's music as to make it sound natural and sweet on the ear. Her phrasing is supple and never overblown; the textures are clearly defined, all the more thanks to excellent sonics that reveal not a trace of congestion. She lingers too much around mezzo forte, though, not taking advantage of Bruckner's dramatic contrasts from very soft to very loud. the urgency and yearning she expresses, however, make this a special experience. The Andante is refreshingly brisk without turning impatient. Young beats all rivals in her ability to express Bruckner's desire for a light "quasi allegretto." At this point the playing of the Hamburg musicians, though good, sounds fairly rough and ready compared to suave competitors like the Berlin and Vienna Phil., but I find that a minor drawback.
The ambling, undistinguished Scherzo isn't a total loss, since Young plays it for Schubertian lightness. Her exuberance makes you believe in the music, in fact, and sheer energy carries us over the weak spots. The finale from 1874 is a slapdash, disjointed amalgam of inert thematic material sprinkled through with great ideas -- the ones that would survive in the finale version. Young continues to be energetic and at times brash here. She doesn't try to add respectability, much less profundity, to themes that are basically time-fillers. There's a kind of blunt honesty that really works.
In Short, this is the most engaging version of the 1874 edition I've run across and replaces Inbal's as my favorite. I must get on and hear all of Young's surprisingly impressive Bruckner.