Osmo Vänskä / Minnesota Orchestra

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 'Romantic'

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Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 'Romantic' Review

by Blair Sanderson

Newcomers to the symphonies of Anton Bruckner should be excused for being a little confused by all the different versions and editions that exist, for even aficionados occasionally encounter a hitherto unknown version of a symphony that challenges their expertise and opinions. This hybrid SACD of Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, "Romantic," presents not the original 1874 version, which many young conductors find the most interesting to record, nor even the 1878-1880 version, which is the most widely performed, but the third version of 1888, which was published in 1890, though subsequently rejected by scholars as inauthentic. While Bruckner approved all the changes in this revision, the copying of the music was done by the brothers Joseph and Franz Schalk, along with Ferdinand Löwe, students of the composer who were later criticized for tampering with the other symphonies in misguided efforts to popularize them. While there is still reason to suspect any versions associated with these well-meaning but compromising acolytes, the fact that Bruckner consented to the publication of this version suggests that it should at least be heard, if not necessarily regarded as an officially sanctioned edition. There are numerous minor changes in the orchestration, dynamic markings, and secondary parts, enough so that people who know this symphony well will be a little disconcerted by them. Overall, the music is the same as the second version and the form of the symphony is basically unchanged, except for some transitional music between the Scherzo and the Trio. But the additional filigree parts in the woodwinds, the sharper accentuation in many spots in the timpani part, the overly lush writing for strings and winds, and the ludicrous insertion of a cymbal crash in the Finale are just a few examples of gilding the lily, as if the symphony in any of its earlier guises had been too boring or too rough and needed gussying up. The amount of touching up leads one to guess the revisionist hands of the Schalks and Löwe were too busy, or their arguments were too persuasive, and Bruckner's assent may not have been as authoritative as it seems. In any event, this performance by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra gives us a vivid recording with which to judge this rarely heard edition. But as enthusiastically and as superbly as Vänskä and the Minnesotans play it, the character of this version comes off as un-Brucknerian when compared to any of his later works. The touch-ups stand out as inauthentic because they were never incorporated or developed later in the canon. Had Bruckner orchestrated as lavishly in his Symphony No. 5, or even kept the disputed cymbal crash in his Symphony No. 7, those might have been used as evidence to support the changes in the Symphony No. 4. But later Bruckner sounds more like an outgrowth of the 1878-1880 version, and its modest orchestration and transparent counterpoint fit with the style of his least revised symphonies. The strangeness of this version is the best argument against it being taken too seriously, so this recording, excellent as it is, is mostly recommended for students of Bruckner's symphonies who need to know what unnecessary changes the Schalks and Löwe wrought.

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