BRUCKNER Symphony No 4 (Thielemann)
This is the second version of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony on DVD and Blu-ray disc conducted by Christian Thielemann to appear in less than a decade, the previous version also recorded live in the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden and also directed by Agnes Méth. There are, however, some key differences between the two versions, and not entirely in the newcomer’s favour.
The principal advantage of the new version is the playing of the Staatskapelle Dresden, which is even finer than that of the Munich Philharmonic on the 2008 recording. This is particularly apparent in the Andante, a movement that can drag in lesser performances but which is here hauntingly atmospheric. Thielemann keeps a firm grip on dynamic levels – ppp really means ppp – and the hushed playing is exquisitely rendered. The depth of sonority of horns, trombones and pizzicato double basses at 32'26" (just before fig M) is just one of many outstanding moments, and the Scherzo’s brief Trio, delicately shaded and imbued with pastoral warmth, is similarly memorable.
On the debit side, I find the performance somewhat wanting in intensity in the outer movements, Thielemann’s authoritative navigation of the symphonic structure notwithstanding. In this respect the earlier recording is much to be preferred. The Munich Philharmonic’s delivery of the symphony’s quieter passages might not match the refinement of their Dresden colleagues but the performance as a whole is more vibrant and involving. The earlier version also enjoys slightly better sound, avoiding the tendency towards congestion in louder passages that occasionally affects the newer recording. Both versions feature Agnes Méth’s rather restive directorial style, which I find better suited to the faster movements than to the more static Andante. A final differentiating factor for those not collecting Thielemann’s Dresden Bruckner cycle is that the Munich version includes a performance of the Seventh Symphony while the new release has no coupling.