BRUCKNER Symphony No 4, 'Romantic'

Dohnányi live at the RFH just as he ended Philharmonia role

Author: 
Rob Cowan
BRUCKNER Symphony No 4, 'Romantic'

BRUCKNER Symphony No 4 – Dohnányi

  • Symphony No. 4, 'Romantic'

There’s much worth celebrating on this excellent new (or newish) recording of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. The venue is the Royal Festival Hall, the date October 30, 2008, the edition used the same that Dohnányi used for his conceptually similar 1989 Decca recording (10/91 – nla): ‘1881 (aka 1878/80) – ed Robert Haas [1936]’. The principal attraction here is a sense of blossoming growth, the way the first movement’s climaxes gradually gain in intensity, the first at 1’40”; then, by 8’02”, we can easily understand the concept of symphonic development. We’re clearly in a different place and the heat is full on. Also, Dohnányi has a convincing take on the way the Fourth’s arching phrases function in relation to its rhythmic aspect, so that while the string lines soar, the brass and timpani help focus the score’s structural foundations. The clearly recorded violins benefit hugely from being divided left and right of the rostrum, an option that in this particular symphony makes significant musical sense. For example, in the elevated conversational exchanges that tail the first movement’s lyrical second subject, where in normal circumstances – unless you have your head buried in a score –you may well miss the fact that at 2’47” the first fiddles answer the seconds, whereas for the return of the same idea in the recapitulation (at 13’51”) the seconds answer the firsts. Would Bruckner have bothered with the reversal had he not wanted to achieve a sort of symmetry?

The Andante quasi allegretto second movement is expressive and sensibly paced, the Scherzo bracing and very well played, while the sizeable but ever-changing finale benefits from cannily judged transitions. In a word, this is intelligent, a performance that eschews the kind of inflated gestures that so often hinder Bruckner. Though, having said that, I must immediately contradict myself and quote the epic coda of Celibidache’s Munich Fourth (the one released by EMI – 11/99) as being an exception – and boy, that is very broad! But Dohnányi’s vividly (if rather closely) recorded Romantic is a genuine contender.

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