Anton Bruckner - Symphony NO. 4

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ANTON BRUCKNER - Symphony No. 4 (1888 version) - Osmo Vänskä (Conductor) - Minnesota Orchestra - Hybrid SACD - 7318599917467 - BIS SACD1746

I can almost picture Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) sitting on a high chair, leaning over a drafting table with calibration tools in hand, counting the notes, measuring the bars, adding the number of beats, multiplying the number of reprises, fine-tuning the dynamics, calibrating the tempos, etc ... for that is how his music unfolds. A main theme or motif is presented, stated a few times, after an exact number of measures used for development, it is repeated, followed by another exact number of development bars, at which time it is recapitulated and closes the movement. He wrote his symphonic scores like an architect drafts plans for a building. Each and every note in the right place at the right time, otherwise the whole musical edifice would crumble. That is why I've never understood the reasoning behind the argument that states that Bruckner and Mahler are alike. A Mahler symphony is like a tree with a massive trunk at its core, with the movements branching out in all directions, eventually all leading to a colorful crowning foliage. A Bruckner symphony on the other hand, is like a massive square block of granite, with each movement carved out from that block to exact specifications with a chisel, each small block containing all the even smaller building blocks that build the symphony. And even with that methodology to his work, Bruckner would revise and re-revise his symphonies. Some view that as a sign of incompetence. I view it as a true sign of a man devoted to his art and dedicated to preserving the beauty inherent to the disciplined structure of music. Clarity and precision.

And that is exactly what makes this new recording with the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä so good. After all, their recent traversal, on the same label, of all of Beethoven's symphonies, collected awards, accolades and praise from all circles. One fine example being: 'A Beethoven cycle that has been unswervingly rewarding. Osmo Vänskä has managed to strip away old-hat notions of how Beethoven "ought" to sound to arrive at a refreshing view that is crisply articulated and uncluttered.' {Classic FM Magazine}. And in 2000, Hyperion released a great recording of Bruckner's Third Symphony conducted by Osmo Vänskä with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra which was nominated for a Grammy Award.

In this performance they approach the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major by Bruckner the same way and expose all the fine details by removing the excess sonic fat, and exposing the muscle. Take for example the famous Scherzo in this symphony. If their ever was a piece of music that required clarity, precision, rhythmic momentum and muscle all rolled into one, this is it. And that is exactly the treatment it receives here. Clarity, precision and impact. And the same goes for the rest of the symphony. Bruckner applied his patience to assure that every note he put down was essential to the musical discourse, and the Minnesota Orchestra players apply their skill to assure that every note they play is essential to the musical discourse. And naturally, the well engineered BIS recording gives full justice to their efforts.

The excellent booklet notes were written by the editor of this 1888 version himself, Benjamin M. Korstvedt. They go a long way in pointing out all the minute little tweaks that Bruckner adjusted between the 1874, 1878 and 1888 versions. Mostly cosmetic changes relating to instrumentation, tempo markings and dynamics. He explains that, as the final version of the work, it is obviously essential to any complete picture of the compositional evolution of this great symphony.

Jean-Yves Duperron