Roger Norrington

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 (First Version 1874)

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Because Roger Norrington has begun applying his ideas of authentic period practice to the music of Anton Bruckner, it's natural he would want to record what is arguably the most popular of the symphonies, the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, "Romantic." Following a trend among several of his contemporaries, Norrington does not perform the most familiar editions of 1881 or 1886, but opts for the less frequently played first edition of 1874, which has a completely different Scherzo and Finale, as well as dramatically different castings of material in the first and second movements. As far as this choice goes, it puts Norrington's recording up against those by Dennis Russell Davies, Eliahu Inbal, Michael Gielen, Simone Young, and Jesús López-Cobos, who represent the growing number of conductors to take on this Erstfassung, so it's not particularly groundbreaking for Norrington to be joining the pack. But putting aside his reputation for charting new areas of historically informed performance practice, Norrington still seems like a bad fit for this repertoire, since he habitually sacrifices the spirit of the music to follow what he sees as the letter of the score and makes Bruckner's ethereal and ecstatic music seem too mechanical and fussy to fit comfortably in the established tradition or to suit many Brucknerians. While it is certainly justifiable to present Bruckner according to his era's expectations (i.e., to play with little vibrato in the strings, to use the customary orchestral seating arrangement, and to employ brisker tempos), this by no means should yield a "Romantic" Symphony that is stiff or sterile. Note, for instance, Philippe Herreweghe's authentic and glowing performance of the 1886 edition on Harmonia Mundi, which lives and breathes with a genuine Brucknerian feeling while also observing historical points. But Norrington's fastidiousness in details and tightness of expression make this performance of the earliest version seem cold and artificial and quite lacking in Bruckner's characteristic warmth, radiance, and heaven-storming grandeur. Curious listeners may give this recording a listen, but most aficionados will try the above named conductors before Norrington.

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