All suns must set. I never thought this maxim would apply to my twenty year allegiance to Karajan's performance of the Bruckner Fourth on EMI. The same comment is true of the DG alternative from 1976 and alternatives from Knappertsbusch, Klemperer, Furtwangler, Haitink and many others (I am afraid to look nowadays). If you need a new hubcap over the next few days, drop me an email.
Squirreled away in this DVD offering is the greatest performance of the Fourth in existence. It comes on two CDs which in itself is a mighty feat even by Celi's standards. Sony trumpets it as the `Rediscovered Fourth Symphony'. In truth, it is a live performance of the Romantic in Vienna with the Munich Philharmonic which has never put in a better day's work. In fact, it makes his EMI alternative seem like a run-through. The recording is demonstration-class and by a wide margin. While the DVDs are fine enough, the CDs alone are worth the price of admission. Sony - come to your senses and release them in their own right!
There is a deep alignment between Bruckner and Heidegger in their celebration of Pure Being and it radiance. Leibniz joins in the chorus with his wondrous question: why is there something rather than nothing? Celi is fully attuned to these considerations. Here, when the big chorale arises in the middle of the first movement in all its lambency, one is left awe-struck, just as much as the Apollo 8 astronauts were when they witnessed Earthrise over the Sea of Tranquillity. I have never heard anything like this - never. This is Bruckner as Creation. Not even Karajan in his DG performance imbues this passage with the same degree of celestial wonder. The slow movement is an excursion into the `forests of the night' and there has never been a more deep-domain exposition than this: Celi slows the music to a crawl thereby sucking the breath from the listener - and the climax which follows is seismic in its impact. The Scherzo is a bucolic interlude. Celi is famous for his `Stairway to Heaven' treatment of the finale's coda. Here, it is much better realised than the EMI alternative: Farewell to the Shadowlands indeed.
The slow tempo notwithstanding, everything here is masterfully sustained. Nothing sags. Other than the Karajan performance of the Eighth from 1944, I am hard-pressed to think of any other Bruckner performance (in whatever symphony) that comes anywhere near this account in terms of sustained mastery and Real Presence. This is life-changing. It is a Sign.
DVD-wise, the Tokyo Bruckner Eighth is somewhat grainy in its visuals. The Munich Bruckner Sixth is better captured. All three of them are stupendous performances. My favourite is the Sixth.
Blake tells us that a fool who persists in his folly will become wise. In Beethoven and Brahms, one could argue that Celi's ideas are little short of kookery. His Bruckner is normally exempt from this judgement. Here, his zany views are vindicated in a singular act of transfiguration.