BRUCKNER Symphony No 4 WAGNER Parsifal: Good Friday Music
Since Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic took the Romantic Symphony on a tour of Germany in the autumn of 1951, there has been a sea change in the matter of playing and thinking about Bruckner. Even recordings of Palestrina and Bach from that time are more recognisable now as representing a distinct and unchanging artefact than this performance of what often sounds, quite simply, like a different piece. Not only in the notes themselves, such as the Scherzo’s superfluous modulations and the trumped-up passage into the Trio, or the finale’s percussive fixings, brushed and crashed cymbal and all, but more crucially in the symphony’s speed and direction of flow.
At least, it’s generally assumed these days that the symphony has a flow. Not even Mario Venzago at his most idiosyncratic chops up the outer movements into discrete units of expression – this one rustic, the next visionary – to such disconcerting effect and with so violent a wrench of momentum between each episode. The past really is another country. A more vivid and deeply etched one, to be sure, in the Andante’s musings on Lohengrin, but lost all the same, like the engravings of Atlantis in my childhood edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, and hardly less so in the more nuanced end-of-tour performance a week later, recorded in Munich and made available in decent sound by Orfeo. The Stuttgart concert of October 22 is misdated in the booklet; Praga’s remastering is clear and spacious though not noticeably superior to a previous Music & Arts transfer.
The Egypt Radio relay of the Good Friday Music from Cairo is crumbly but incomparably more present, or perhaps that’s the performance, which transports us to the realm of a renewed Monsalvat without the strenuous exercise of historical imagination.