BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major “Romantic” – Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI/ Lovro von Matacic – Archipel ARPCD 0481, 61:26 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
Taken from the Milan concert session of 23 February 1962, Croatian conductor Lovro von Matacic (1899-1985) leads a RAI ensemble in Bruckner’s most accessible symphony, his 1874 (rev. 1878; 1880) E-flat Symphony, which he later dubbed “Romantic.” The opening movement, Bewegt, nicht zu schnell, purportedly depicts a “medieval town at dawn” with “calls to wake up” heard in the solo horn. After this theme is taken up by the woodwinds, the glorious second theme bursts forth via the full orchestra playing the “Bruckner rhythm.” He described this scene as “knights riding out into the open country on proud stallions.” Matacic drives the music hard, celebrating its clarion heraldic character. Still, the hymnal character in Bruckner asserts itself, whether in pantheistic or conciliatory affect. The RAI French horn has his work cut out, as do the RAI brass. Typical of Matacic’s rich sway in Bruckner, the low strings, especially the cellos, enjoy a plastic, full resonance that belies the usual notion of scrappy Italian radio ensembles. The first movement’s inexorable churning to the thrilling coda exudes the visceral excitement of a live concert.
In the second movement Andante, quasi allegretto Bruckner speaks of “a love that has been spurned.” We hear a beautiful, yearning melody heard first in the cellos, then adopted by the rest of the sections throughout the movement. The tenor of the movement, however, remains decidedly bucolic, a combination hymn and march that might once again refer to Bruckner’s imagined knights. Matacic refuses to drag this music, and the cumulative power of the legato and plucked effects proves undeniable. The third movement Scherzo invokes music of the forest and hunt. In fact, a handwritten entry in the score describes the ländler-like trio of the “hunting scherzo,” dominated by the acerbic, pungent horns, as a “dance tune heard during the meal taken in the course of the hunt.” Matacic’s fiercely blistering pace invokes Mendelssohn, but the thickness of the texture aspires to Wagner. Matacic has his strings, winds, and horns playing their full worth, ushering an amalgam of blazing sound.
Regarding the finale, according to one account, Bruckner said he no longer knew what he had thought about when composing it in 1880. Themes and rhythms of the opening movement recur, bringing the symphony full circle and to a dramatic close. Something of the Beethoven Fifth ethos permeates this wild movement, with Matacic’s pushing the masses of sound most insistently. Nothing of Bruno Walter’s “polite” Bruckner in this reading. Rather, we hear what a Mitropoulos version might have sounded like, given demonic urge common to him and Matacic, who builds a final peroration of uncompromising energy. And the audience knows it!
The Archipel “Desert Island” performance certainly warrants a dedicated hearing, but for my money, the addition of a live concert overture from Wagner, or Bruckner’s own G Minor Overture with Matacic would have made a superb filler.
“Perhaps the most fluently consummate performer on the keyboard of all time…”