ANTON BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E flat Major, “Romantic” (1874-80) – London Symphony Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink – LSO Live multichannel SACD LSO0716, 69:08 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Boy, has Bruckner ever been covered in the SACD format—perhaps even more so than Mahler. Stands to reason—the complexities of both composers have been ideal for music in surround ever since the first recordings on quad tape became available. Bruckner’s Fourth is probably his most popular symphony, most pastoral, and most Austrian. It was his only symphony given its subtitle by the composer himself, who wanted to associate it with medieval romance, hunting and enchanted woods—something in the style of his much-admired Wagner’s operas. Bruckner also wrote some rather corny programmatic descriptions for each movement, but no one pays any attention to those today, considering them just part of the composer’s over-weaning efforts to please friends and critics by constantly “correcting” and changing his scores.
The magical horn call which opens the symphony was inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth, and in Bruckner’s program it was the horn playing the morning call sounds from the city towers. The first and last movements are the longest of the symphony and both are in E flat major, whereas the Andante second movement is in C minor and the brief scherzo in B flat major. The Scherzo doesn’t need a program description to realize it could be a hunting scene, and there is an imitation of a barrel-organ in it. Everything comes together in the finale. Symphonist Robert Simpson sees the first three movements as layers to be removed as an archaeological dig to get to the city below – the work’s finale. Bruckner’s orchestration of towering orchestral unisons using elements from the earlier movements is most impressive.
I’ve been something of a stickler with preferring Günter Wand’s recordings of the Bruckner symphonies, though I only have the RCA standard CD versions rather than the expensive BMG Japan series of SACDs (both with the Berlin Philharmonic). But I think I’ve found an even better version in Haitink’s No. 4, not to mention the improved sonics and surround. Mariss Jansons/ Concertgebouw on RCO Live (combined on two discs with No. 3) is also a fine SACD, but the interior voices sometimes sound a bit run together vs. Haitink, especially in the brass section. Haitink is slightly slower, running two minutes longer than Janson’s timing, but doesn’t lack snap and excitement at all.
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