BRUCKNER Symphony No 4, 'Romantic' (Nelsons)
It’s apposite that Andris Nelsons’s account of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the second release in his cycle of the composer’s symphonies, is coupled with the Prelude from Wagner’s Lohengrin. It’s in the symphony’s slower and more contemplative passages that his performance is at its best, highlighting the influence of Wagner’s music on Bruckner’s symphonic language. A notable example is Nelsons’s interpretation of the hushed passage at the end of the first movement exposition, the ppp playing of the first violins conveying a real sense of rapture before the transition to the development and the magical return of the opening horn call.
Nelsons’s interpretation of the Andante is on the slow side, taking just over 17 minutes, but his sensitivity to dynamics and tone colour as well as his judicious use of rubato holds the attention. The playing of the violas just after fig C (3'34") is wonderfully sepulchral and the contribution of the principal horn elsewhere is magnificent. The result is highly atmospheric and profoundly moving. Nelsons’s care for detail is also impressive in the Scherzo, ensuring that the secondary brass voices are clearly audible in tutti passages, rather than disappearing in a blaze of sound as so often happens. I was particularly taken by his unhurriedly pastoral interpretation of the Trio, the playing full of warmth and character. By contrast, Nelsons’s reading of the finale is spacious and grand, the playing full of imaginative detail as well as powerfully dramatic in the climactic moments. Once or twice, his approach risks mannerism, the playing descending into near inaudibility followed by an unmarked three-second pause just before fig M (11'29") for example, but otherwise Nelsons offers a faithful and well-structured interpretation of Bruckner’s score.
Nelsons’s Bayreuth recording of Lohengrin (Opus Arte, 10/12) is a remarkable achievement and it’s not surprising to find that this performance of the Prelude to Act 1 is everything one could wish for – luminous, transcendental and ideally paced. The recording of both works is detailed and well balanced. Applause has been excised, although some faint audience noise can occasionally be heard in the quieter sections of the symphony.