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on 22 July 2012
This is a performance of the 1888 version of the Romantic Symphony, the third and final version of the Symphony. For several decades, it has been rarely performed because of its rejection by Bruckner scholars, notably Robert Haas and Leopold Nowak, as spurious. The notes to many a recording of the second version, composed between 1878 and 1880 and now the most frequently performed, are reflective of that view. This is what John Williamson, the author of the notes to Abbado's 1990 VPO recording of the 1878/80 version, wrote: "It should also be mentioned that the so-called "revised version" published in 1880 (sic) is seldom performed nowadays, being largely the work of Bruckner's disciple Ferdinand Lowe." And, according to Wolfgang Seifert, author of the notes to Wand's 1998 recording of the 1878/80 version with the BPO, "other modifications and first editions that appeared during Bruckner's lifetime contain major incursions made by the "practical musicians" surrounding him and cannot be seen as authentic."

Yet, it would appear that such conclusions are overly simplistic, at best. The notes to the present recording were written by Benjamin Korstvedt, who prepared a critical edition of the 1888 version, published in 2004 by the International Bruckner Society of Vienna. In those notes, he emphasises that, while the manuscript score of the 1888 version was initially copied by Bruckner's acolytes, the Schalk brothers and Ferdinand Lowe, Bruckner authorised its final publication and oversaw its performance in January 1888. Furthermore, the copy "contains numerous revisions and emendations subsequently made by Bruckner himself that testify to the care and seriousness with which the composer undertook its preparation."

Without compelling evidence that the composer was acting under duress or lacked conviction in the changes, the fact that the composer himself authorised the 1888 version would seem to provide fair grounds for not dismissing it, notwithstanding the composer's supposed preparedness to change scores based on the opinions of others (though apparently Korstvedt also argues that Bruckner firmly resisted changes if they did not accord with his better judgement). Certainly, it would seem unreasonable, on the one hand, to reject the 1888 version, authorised by the composer, and, on the other, accept the first version (composed in 1874), whose publication was never authorised by the composer, and which, indeed, was significantly altered by him for the purposes of the 1878/80 version (but which has become increasingly popular with conductors).

Listeners familiar with the 1878/80 version would, on listening to the 1888 version, recognise that the former is left largely intact. However numerous the changes in the 1888 version, they mainly relate to instrumentation and performance markings. In the chorale near the end of the first movement development, for example, the shimmering violins remain, but among the changes are as follows: the brass are pared back in delivering the chorale, except at certain points when they project forcefully supported by timpani rolls (the last of these timpani rolls is observed by some conductors whilst using the 1878/80 version, such as Karajan and, more dramatically, Muti, both with the BPO in 1975 [DG] and 1985 [EMI] respectively); gone are the horn accents; and violas and cellos play pizzicato in a supporting role. Another notable example is the use of the cymbals in the final movement: a crash at the reprise of the Symphony's opening theme, another feature that some conductors borrow when performing the 1878/80 version (eg Jochum and Karajan, both with the BPO in 1965 [DG] and 1975 [DG] respectively, and Jansons in 2008 with the RCO [RCO Live]); and two gentle strokes in the coda.

There are some changes in form, most notably in the third movement, where the reassertion of the scherzo (prior to the trio) is shortened, with the climax removed, and a new passage ushers in the trio. The reprise of the scherzo following the trio is also shortened.

Whether these changes are seen as improvements or unnecessary embellishments will be for individual listeners to judge. On the whole, I was not offended, but nor was I particularly persuaded, especially by the sharper articulation in several timpani parts, and, in my view, the chorale of the first movement is more noble and stirring in its 1878/80 version with those horn accents (particularly resplendent in Bohm's recording with the VPO in 1973). That said, one could argue that the formal changes to the third movement are to the benefit in the sense that the movement does not simply consist of scherzo, trio and repeat of scherzo note for note, but is a more varied beast with the climax saved until last. Then again, such changes are not in accord with the standard structure of Bruckner's scherzos. Then again, had Bruckner lived longer....

I dare say, however, that, while the changes wrought by the 1888 version may be of interest, the key issue for many listeners will be Vanska's take on the music generally. In this regard, Vanska certainly has something different to offer, at least to those, like me, brought up on a diet of Karajan, Bohm etc.

The difference is apparent at the first fortissimo for full orchestra. To those used to hearing an expansive sea of sound, what is provided by Vanska and his players may come as a bit of a surprise. It is leaner and more transparently textured, and the theme is delivered with greater incisiveness. Throughout, instrumental detail, even in densely scored passages, such as that intense build up to the first climax to the final movement, register cleanly. There is less density and weight. Tempos are generally swift, though not breathless, and there is great rhythmic vitality.

Vanska is attentive to dynamics, and phrases are sculpted with care. After the first movement, Vanska, somewhat against expectations, adopts a leisurely approach to the Andante (16.18); Karajan, in his 1975 performance on DG, is nearly 2 minutes faster. It is, however, a gravely beautiful account and well sustained.

On the whole, I liked the performance, but, at times in the first movement (for example, that first fortissimo), Vanska's clean-etched incisiveness seemed a pedantic mannerism, robbing the music of some of its grandeur. In addition - and this is a relatively minor point - at the commencement of the final movement, double basses and cellos play a set of repeated notes quietly and rapidly, producing a throbbing effect. This contributes greatly to the momentum, tension and ominous tone of this beginning. However, Vanska's double basses and cellos play so quietly that they are only just audible until around 30 seconds in, as the build-up to the climax takes effect.

The Minnesota strings produce a lean but warm sound, in keeping with the overall conception, and the brass really shine. The sonics are excellent.
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on 29 January 2014
The Beast and Mister Liar-Liar-Pants-On-Fire - Albert Speer - coined the concept of Ruin Value ("Ruinenwert). Namely, when buildings become ruins, they should transform into aesthetic monuments, much like the rubble of Greece and Rome. Little did our buddies know that Germany itself would become a testing-ground for such a principle . . .

Ruinenwert can also be applied to music. Knappertsbusch's 1944 performance of Bruckner's Fourth with the Berlin Philharmonic is one such instance. Sonically, it has been ravaged by time. Even so, its majesty is not in doubt (Anton Bruckner Symphonie No. 4 in E-Flat 'Romantic').

I question whether Osmo Vänskä's performance of the same symphony with the Minnesota Orchestra, recorded in 2010, lays claim to longevity. The conductor is clearly a natural in Bruckner; the 1888 edition - in use here - is my favourite and the recording is first-class. Nevertheless the orchestra in question, whilst it bets the house, is thin and ordinary, particularly in the strings.

I thoroughly enjoyed this performance for its duration; there is no compulsion to return to it. In a century's time, will listeners be crawling over its ruins in search of gold and glory? Me wonders.
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VINE VOICEon 13 July 2010
This is a noble interpretation and a beautifully natural recording of the final version of the Bruckner Symphony 4. It is in Benjamin Korstvedt's 2005 edition for the International Bruckner Society.

If this seems a tad pedantic, this information really does matter because there are THREE major versions of Bruckner 4 that are now available on CD and this one has not had an easily available modern stereo recording until now, despite being the version recorded by Knappertsbusch and Furtwaengler in the 1950's.

The current CD holds music that was wildly out of fashion with the Bruckner critics from about 1935 until 2000 (give or take a few years). The late Deryck Cooke called this version "...an abominable bowdlerisation [by the Schalk Brothers and Loewe] that does not reflect Bruckner's authentic vision and should be immediately discarded." And that is what the editors of the Bruckner Critical Edition of the International Bruckner Society (Robert Haas and later Leopold Nowak) most certainly believed. Anybody coming to Bruckner in the 1960's, when reasonable recordings started to appear, was taught that the first published editions were false versions. This meant that although from about 1890 to 1935 the version on this CD was the one that was performed, it became a tenet of critical belief that research into earlier manuscripts had uncovered the "real" or "Originalfassung" (original version) of this symphony and that this "original" version was "pure" compared to the "adulterated" version in the First Published Edition that had held sway up to that time. Even now CD booklets label Bruckner symphonies with the phrase "Original Version" from time to time.

But the version on this disc has been shown by Korstvedt's recent research to have been strongly supervised by Bruckner himself and prepared for a performance in 1891. The intention would have been to "improve" the music but that is a matter that has huge critical implications and it is not possible to address that here.

What potential buyers need to know at this point is that this is a powerful and noble version of the "Romantic" Symphony very beautifully played and recorded. And for those who worry about this sort of thing, the Version in this edition is completely "authentic Bruckner" (as are, actually, all the other Versions mentioned in this review).

At the least, just like in the 1890 Vienna Version of Symphony 1, the 1889 Version of Symphony 3 and the 1890 Version of Symphony 8, this 1888 Version of Symphony 4 represents the last written wishes of the composer, for whatever reason. This will matter more to people who think that there is "one right" version than to those who rejoice that there are actually three major versions of Symphony 4, each rather different and each available today. Remember, in 1935 this music was NOT available in multiple versions or relatively cheap recordings. These days it is possible to have good recordings of all the versions, to see the development of the composer's thought in the music and to revel in the riches uncovered by scholars and conductors.

There is a difference between VERSIONS and EDITIONS. In the case of the Romantic Symphony there are THREE MAJOR VERSIONS:

1874 First Concept Version
1878 - 80 First Revised Version [First Performed Version]
1888 Final Revised Edition

But then it gets more complicated. For example, there is an interim version of the Finale from 1878 known as the "People's (i.e. Volks) Festival" which Bruckner abandoned for the first performance (by Richter) in 1881, replacing it with the 1880 version. Hence this 1878 - 80 version, the one that has been the most performed for about 70 years, has a Finale that seems just a little out of balance witht he rest of the music. This is one of the things that the 1888 revision sets out to trim back, and the Finale on this Vanska disc is wonderfully well handled and very integrated. But what I have called the "First Revised Version 1878 - 80" had more work done to it for a possible performance in New York in 1885. The differences between the Haas Edition of the 1878 - 80 Version and the Nowak edition of what might be thought to be the same music, come from using these different texts. Most recordings of Bruckner 4 are actually one or other of the incarnations of this First Revised Version.

The 1874 Original Concept Version has a different Scherzo and is a much more complicated piece of music with layer on layer of counter themes and developments. In the right hands this can be very stimulating like Simone Young Bruckner, A.: Symphony No. 4, "Romantic" (Original 1874 Version) (Hamburg Philharmonic, S. Young) (available as a download: get link for CD from that page as I cannot at present insert a direct product link from Amazon), Russel-Davies Bruckner - Symphony No 4 (1874 Version) or Norrington Bruckner - Symphony No 4 It was never published or performed in Bruckner's lifetime.

For the "middle" version, Enoch zu Guttenberg's superb disc Bruckner - Symphony No 4 has yet, in my opinion, to be bettered. But this is confusingly labelled "Third Version" and derives from the changes made for the projected New York performance of 1885.

There is no easily available disc to compete with this Vanska recording in the Final Revised Version and certainly not one in such very good sound, so BIS have the field to themselves here. The interpretion is very subtle. For example, compared with all the other versions there is a greater use of timpani rolls to underpin climaxes. Furtwaengler's recordings (for example Bruckner - Symphonies Nos 4 - 9 - Furtwängler 1942-1951 recordings ) have rather loud drums, but Vanska's timpanist uses a variety of dynamic levels and to great effect. Some of the transition sections in the first and last movements are so tenderly handled that I was completely won over.

So in summary, if you have heard Bruckner 4 in concert and want to buy a disc this is not quite the same music that you will have heard. See the Enoch zu Guttenberg disc above. If you know the other two versions of this lovely work then you will probably want to hear this recording. Vanska makes the best case for this version that I have ever heard. If you grow, or have grown, to love Bruckner's music then this disc will be an essential buy as it is without peer in the current catalogue - there IS no other mainstream label recording of this version. If you have NEVER heard Bruckner 4 before and learn the work on this recording you will be responding to a version that Bruckner was very proud of and you will be in no way short-changed as it is a truly lovely disc in every way.
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on 1 April 2014
This version of Bruckner 4th in this interpretation, playing and this recording does grap my attention to the most - more than other versions and more than other conductors (Wand. Celibidache and Böhm). Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra really have this not so often played score in their hands and hearts and I want to follow with my listening every note they play and every turn the music takes. It is so full of inner tension from the first to the last movement that I can't be anything but "just being here". A lot of inspiration is coming across and touches my soul. Kudos to Vanska and the Minnesota and BIS.
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on 18 November 2011
I'm writing a review of this performance from a concert given by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in November 2012, presumably the same referred to above by the French person. I thought it was simply excellent. Osmo Vanska does get some Sibelian sounds out of the orchestra, but then again their dates do overlap so it's not really surprising. Mr Fortune gives a more balanced judgement here I think.
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on 17 November 2011
This is probably one of the worst Bruckner renditions ever. First the choice of the Korstvedt edition is a disaster (seriously, this edition is quite a joke and transforms this beautiful symphony into a vulgar piece of fanfare). As David Hurwitz puts it, "it is a fraud. It is sickening. It is a disgrace". I couldn't agree more.
Secondly, whilst I have utmost respect for Vanska he has no inspiration whatsoever for Bruckner in general and for this symphony in particular. He tries to make some Sibelius out of it. I saw him recently with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and it was the exact same. Total scam.
There is enough choice of brilliant recordings based on the 1953 Nowak edition - no need to loose time and money with this pointless execution.
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