Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Simon Rattle

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4

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Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 Review

by Blair Sanderson

The Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, "Romantic," by Anton Bruckner has long been one of the most popular of his symphonies, and it has received numerous performances in its multiple versions, often to the confusion and consternation of listeners who have grown familiar with only one. For this 2007 EMI release, Simon Rattle leads the Berlin Philharmonic in Leopold Nowak's 1953 edition of the 1886 version, somewhat puzzlingly also known as the "1878/1880" version, the first three movements representing Bruckner's second attempt on the work, and the Finale being a replacement movement prepared for Hans Richter's 1881 premiere. Many consider this to be the most reliable version, and it is possibly the most frequently performed and recorded. Rattle's interpretation comports with most contemporary ideas about how the work should be played; to the extent that he offers no big surprises in tempo or emotional tone, and delivers a straightforward reading that doesn't disappoint, he presents a solid performance that many can appreciate without delving into the finer points of Bruckner scholarship. But in terms of its richness of orchestral sound, variety of timbres, and wide dynamic range, this recording is one of the most delightful and inviting because Rattle elicits fine details and nuanced tones that are truly wonderful and particularly delicious in the Berlin winds. It's a rare thing to hear this symphony with so much care given to its orchestration (usually, one finds with other conductors that much greater attention has been paid to the work's architecture), and Rattle and the BPO are to be commended for their emphasis on Bruckner's graduated textures and special applications of color, two features that give this work its "Romantic" character and its strong appeal. EMI's sound is extraordinarily clear, focused, warm, and resonant, and it helps make this splendid recording one of the most enjoyable Bruckner discs of the year.

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