Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars A tremendous, pastoral reading., 15 May 2012
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This review is from: Bruckner: Symphony No.4 (Audio CD)
THIS, for me at least, is a long-awaited release. Part of a concert I attended on 30 October 2008 at the Festival Hall, I came away with the feeling that I had heard something very special indeed. The first half of the programme was the Sinfonia Concertante K364 of Mozart with Benjamin Schmid (violin) and Rachel Roberts (viola). Regrettably, even the inclusion of this wonderful evergreen didn't encourage a full attendance - perhaps people had other things on their minds, like queuing to get their money out of the bank as the world's financial system teetered on the brink of collapse - but in this concert those who turned up could forget all about that and were treated to a magical Fourth that transported you on a journey of delights. Indeed in The Bruckner Journal concert review (Vol. 13, no. 2, July 2009, p.6) it was remarked that this performance shone like gold, gripping you from the start and never letting go.

I was in the choir behind the horns. Frankly for 64 minutes I sat mesmerized, the Philharmonia at its utmost peak, Christoph von Dohnanyi, newly appointed Honorary Conductor for Life, raising his game to a new and unexpected high. This was no fluke however, later in December 2009 he conducted the same programme with the New York Philharmonic and that was wonderful too. What however really marks out this performance was the playing of the horns, in my view unparalleled in its exquisite beauty, playing of astonishing quality, delicate and precise in the quieter passages but thrillingly raucous when demanded.

So the issue here is, have the sound engineers captured this in the recording? Yes - is the answer, in my collection this disc now sits proudly next to Bruno Walter's 1960 Columbia miracle. However I do have a couple of niggles. At times an element of reverberation can be detected, surprising because I've never noticed it so pronounced in the Festival Hall. In the finale there is a wonderful moment - by the way, played beautifully here - the recapitulation of the 2nd theme group where the theme is embellished by the flute - in the recording the preceding climax has a remarkably slow dying echo, in fact if anything it enhances the eeriness which Bruckner undoubtedly intended, but I am not sure it truly reflects the Festival Hall acoustic....

In the finale, the last nine bars first and second horns play crotchet triplets up and down the E-flat major chord and are marked "schmetternd", it means `blaring'- they compete with and compliment the rest of the brass and orchestra in one of those exciting Bruckner counterpoint moments. In this recording they are a touch muted, though not completely overwhelmed as in many performances - they were certainly schmetternd on the night! I know that the horns gave their all but I fear the post-production balance engineers have slightly understated their contribution. But these are perhaps issues peculiar to me only, overall this is an immensely rich and pastoral performance, never ever stodgy or ruined by unnecessary and artificial gravitas, the virtuosity of an orchestra and conductor in total control. The finale coda, especially the build up on violins, is fabulous; we are whipped up to fever pitch and then the release - glorious, morale boosted to the heavens! It's no wonder the audience went wild and I'm delighted that Signum have retained this ovation- as deserved as any you will hear.
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