BRUCKNER Symphony No 4 (Thielemann)
What a difference six days makes. That’s the amount of time between Thielemann’s performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony on this Profil CD and the one with the same orchestra already available on a C Major DVD/Blu-ray. The later video performance, made during a visit to Baden-Baden, has an overall timing within two seconds of the one recorded in Dresden, although this masks the fact that the latter is about 80 seconds slower across the first two movements and a similar amount of time swifter in the final two movements. More significant than this, however, is the fact that the audio version is a far more impressive performance.
My initial reaction was to question whether I previously underrated the video version but a comparison of the two versions side-by-side, as well as some blind listening of other recent recordings, confirmed the superiority of the new release. Thielemann’s interpretation, spacious and unaffected, has a commanding strength and inner purpose, and the playing of the Dresden Staatskapelle seems even more cultivated than on the video recording. The performance of the Andante in particular conjures a magical landscape of mists and shadows, and Thielemann really knows how to power those extended Brucknerian climaxes in the finale. The excellent recording captures the occasional cough in quiet passages but the audience is generally very well behaved; the sudden outbreak of applause in the silence that follows the performance is almost startling.
The video release of the Third Symphony, Thielemann’s first recording of this work, is similarly impressive. Thielemann performs the 1877 edition, which loses the Wagner quotations and some of the discursiveness of the 1873 score without suffering the cuts that trouble many listeners in the finale of the 1889 version. This version also includes the short coda to the Scherzo, which Bruckner added in 1878 and subsequently crossed out.
Thielemann’s approach to tempos is slightly more flexible than in the Fourth Symphony, although his choices are judiciously handled and do not detract from the overall sense of line. The first movement has grandeur and magnificence, essential qualities in this music, while the Adagio is wonderfully moving, especially in the closing moments. The Scherzo has a powerful rhythmic charge, with a superbly characterised Trio, followed by a near-ideal performance of the multifaceted finale. As in the Fourth Symphony, the orchestral playing is in class of its own, superbly balance and exquisitely articulated.
The video shows Thielemann leading the performance without a score, and more animated and perspiring than we sometimes see him. Elisabeth Malzer’s video direction is relatively unimaginative, which is not necessarily a bad thing, although occasionally I felt there could be a better match between the instruments seen on the screen and the ones heard in the speakers. Nevertheless, with its excellent sound and video quality, this is one of the most recommendable versions of the 1877 Third available in any medium.