We're back to Bruckner, and that old chestnut of editions again. Recently, at the Barbican Hall, Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra performed an all-Bruckner Four programme. You read that right. The order of programme at that concert was: Discarded Scherzo (1874, rev. 1876) and Discarded Finale, ‘Volksfest’ (1878) from Symphony No.4 (ed. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs); Symphony No.4 in E flat, ‘Romantic’ (1878-81, ed. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, Anton Bruckner Urtext Gesamtausgabe, Vienna, 2021). So the position is far from clear as to which is the "best" version: Thilemann opts for the familiar 1878/80 Robert Haas score, so there are no "surprises" on that front.
The first movement of Thielemann's account flows beautifully. The Vienna Philahrmonic is on fine form. In his excellent booklet notes (do read them if you buy the disc), Wolfgang Stähr refers to the sound of the VPO as "full-toned, warm, with registrations that are full of countless colours". And how right he is:
The opening horn calls take us straight to the archetypically Romantic forest, and as the music progresses one can hear how organ registrations (Bruckner was an organist) find their way into the performance. Thielemann, as you can hear from the above, finds a huge dynamic range - the pianissimi are truly beautiful. Amazingly, thsi is the Vienna Philharmonic's first complete cycle of the Bruckner symphonies under a single conductor - on this evidence they made a fine choice. Thielemann's sense of structure - so vital to make sense of those "registration changes" - reminds me of Furtwängler (can there be any higher praise?). Furtwängler left nearly three performances of the Fourth (one, from December 1941 with the Berlier Philharmoniker at the Philharmonie, is incomplete; the other two are a week apart, October 22 1951, the VPO in Stuttgartm and October 29, 1951, same orchestra, but in Munih's Deutsches Museum). I feel another post coming on ...
One of the arts in Bruckner performance is finding the right basic tempo. The second movement is marked as "Andante quasi Allegretto"; it is, perhaps, Bruckner telling us that his walking pace (Andante) had a spring in its step without being a sprint (quasi Allegretto). Thilemenn finds exactly this sense of onward momentum while offering blissful repose. The pianissimi here are just as effective but serve a different purpose: while in the first movement they held infinite tension awaiting release, here they offer sweet repose. The movement climax is spacious and satisfying:
The Vienna horns (they are F horns and have a more rustic sound than the horns used by otehr orchestras) fot the Scherzo perfectly - which blazes with light:
The finale of the Fourth is a complex movement, and Thielemann enables us to hear Bruckner's counterpoint well:
I confess I was less than taken with Thielemann's Bruckner Third at the Proms in 2016 with the Dresden Staatskapelle (Novak edition: review here). But this Fourth certainly is memorable in all the right ways.
As a bonus, here's a video of a recent complete performance by the VPO and Thielemann. The disc we've bene looking at today was recorded at the Salzburg Festival, August 19-22, 2020; this one is just over a year later, September 18, 2021 at Basilica of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona:
This is an ideal complement to the Sony disc - the cathedral acoustic obviously acts in accord with Bruckner's writing, but there's something about Sony's spectacular recording coming full force from a pair of speakers that is just that bit more involving ... This is Thielemann's Bruckner at its finest.