BRUCKNER Symphony No 4
Given the immediacy of its musical invention and its modest dimensions, the relative neglect of Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony is difficult to fathom, although the long-term paucity of recommendable recordings might well have been a factor. Fortunately, recent years have seen the appearance of a number of outstanding new versions, including Herbert Blomstedt’s with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (Querstand, 11/13) and Jaap van Zweden’s with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (Challenge Classics). Now we have another, an extremely well-recorded account under the baton of Paavo Järvi, whose Brucknerian credentials were established a few years back with a notable Seventh Symphony (RCA, 9/09).
Järvi’s Sixth has a feeling of rightness that comes from a full understanding of the work’s architecture as well as its distinctive emotional orbit, all realised with playing of exceptional refinement and expressiveness. The virtues of the performance are too many to detail, but the splendour of the first movement coda and the unforced eloquence of the Adagio stand out, while the perceived difficulties of the finale fade into insignificance when performed with such commitment. Choosing between performances of the quality of Blomstedt, van Zweden and Järvi is an unenviable exercise; all have something distinctive to offer and all are worthy a place in any record collection. Possibly Blomstedt has the edge in the two middle movements, but Järvi delivers a sense of elation in the symphony’s coda that is simply incomparable.
The performance of the Fourth Symphony, recorded the previous year, has many of the same qualities. In a short essay in the CD booklet, Järvi explains that he perceives the symphony as being lighter and sunnier than its companions and seeks to avoid the traditional monumental approach to Bruckner interpretation. The result involves slightly faster tempi than usual in the first two movements but also a convincing sense of power and depth.
Less positively, Järvi also refers to combining details from the various editions ‘in the pursuit of realising the optimal version of the Fourth Symphony’. In practice, what we get is essentially the Nowak edition of the 1878/80 score with some minor additions from the Bruckner/Löwe/Schalk version of 1888. These include the lower strings playing forte rather than ppp in bar 169 of the first movement (4'54") and, most notably, the addition of a cymbal clash in bar 76 of the finale (2'32"). More puzzling is Järvi’s decision to accent the non-pizzicato strings at the start of the Trio of the Scherzo (4'29"), a feature not suggested by any of the editions. There’s also an unmarked crescendo a few bars before main climax of the Andante that ensures the brass resound thrillingly but leaves the fff peroration itself at bar 221 (12'10") sounding slightly undernourished.
Järvi’s textual adjustments are regrettable but hardly unique; recordings of the 1878/80 version by Jochum (DG), Karajan (DG), Barenboim (Warner) and Jansons (RCO) also include the cymbal clash in the finale. For those untroubled by such issues, Järvi’s new recording is one of the most compelling to appear in recent years, although Haitink’s 2011 recording with the LSO is at least as distinguished as an interpretation, as well as offering complete fidelity to the Nowak score.