Kent Nagano

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4

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As more conductors release recordings of the original versions of Anton Bruckner's symphonies, it appears that the composer's wish to have them become the standard editions is at last being fulfilled, well over a century after his death. Certainly, the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, "Romantic," has been most frequently performed in the critical editions by Robert Haas and Leopold Nowak, and audiences have grown accustomed to their familiar movements, marking only slight differences between them. The Urfassung of the Fourth, however, presents a serious challenge to listeners brought up on the later editions, because the material of the first and second movements, while recognizable, is developed in a rather different manner, and the Scherzo and Finale are utterly dissimilar compositions. This Fourth is a craggier and moodier symphony with many abrupt changes in direction, darker episodes, bolder climaxes, and surprising transitions that were smoothed over in the later versions. In a sense, it is a more "Romantic" version than its successors, if by the term we mean it is more picaresque, turbulent, and dramatic. Kent Nagano seems to have chosen to record this version precisely because of its quirks and unexpected turns, which make it a more intriguing piece to interpret than the official editions that may seem too simple, settled, and well-trodden for an adventurous conductor. Nagano leads the Bavarian State Orchestra with alertness to dynamics and a keen ear for the subtleties in Bruckner's orchestration, so the music seems to be treated as organically as possible. This may not yet be the most convincing version of the symphony, but Nagano strives to make the best case for it, and listeners may come away from this experience with a better appreciation of Bruckner's intentions, if not necessarily of his first attempt at this work. Sony's reproduction on this super audio CD is impressive, and the orchestra's tone colors are robust and fully formed in the spacious acoustic environment.

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