BRUCKNER: Symphonies No. 4 in E-flat, “Romantic” (1874 original version); No. 7 in E; No. 8 in c (1887 original version) – Bavarian State Orchestra/ Kent Nagano – Farao Classics B108074 (four CDs—also on Pure Audio Blu-ray)), 75:10, 66:57, 37:04, 62:21 [Distr. by Naxos] ****1/2:
Every time I write Kent Nagano off he surprises me. His Beethoven leaves me cold, and it was with that and other recordings in my mind that I cautiously approached this set of what he calls the “progressive” Bruckner. I was little prepared for the perfected judged balances, expertly mind-tugging at the beautifully constructed architectonic symmetry that is a hallmark of Bruckner’s best work. And to top it off, the Bavarian State Orchestra’s rich, burnished and sumptuous tonal qualities, displayed with technical grace and finesse.
I will quarrel with two things though; one is the decision to not release these on SACD, though the sound is broad, spacious, and fully capable of giving some justice to these magnificent readings. Why the insistence on the original versions of these works, which is becoming more and more common recently? Nagano says that it’s because he believes that Bruckner’s first thoughts were generally so advanced that the public could not appreciate them. Therefore Nos. 4 and 8 are really radically different than what we are used to hearing. No. 4 sounds like a completely new work, while the length of No. 8, here spread across two discs, is nearly the length of Mahler’s Third. It’s the latter that is the most interesting by far. The Romantic simply doesn’t add up; its sprawl and generally disconnected logic prove more that the work really did need an overhaul, and that the public judged rightly. I think No. 8 also loses a lot of its internal logic, which was made very clear in the subsequent revisions. However, Nagano sticks to his guns and make as good a case as you can for these two, and they are certainly performed as well as I have ever heard.
The Seventh, which is easily Bruckner’s most performed work, now and during his lifetime, is simply glorious as rendered here. Again, the argument goes that no revision was necessary since the public loved the piece from the beginning and Bruckner didn’t give it a second thought. Maybe, maybe not—it could also be that he realized that this time he got it just right, and I often think we give too much credence to the fallacy that Bruckner only decided to revise because of criticisms from public and peers. Whatever the cause, the revisions always are, in my opinion, justified.
This is a wonderful release, and I hope Nagano continues down the Brucknerian road, revisions or not. He has a lot to say in this music.
[This set is also available in Pure Audio Blu-ray format, which was not provided us for review…Ed.]