Bruckner – Symphony no. 4
Wagner – Lohengrin Prelude
Andris Nelson, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2018
The Symphony No. 3, first instalment of the complete cycle of Anton Bruckner’s symphonies performed by Andris Nelson and the Gewandhausorchester, received positive reviews when it appeared in 2017. There was therefore much expectation for the new volume and finally the recording of the Symphony No. 4 has been released in February 2018.
The Forth Symphony was live recorded at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig in May 2017. As for the Third Symphony, Nelson’s insight and the skilful playing of the Gewandhausorchester make this an outstanding recording. Moreover, it is again a work by Wagner that introduces Bruckner’s symphony, to highlight the close tie between the two composers. This time, it is the Prelude from the first act of Lohengrin.
Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4
The Symphony No. 4 in E flat major (nicknamed “Romantic”) evokes the world of Beethoven’s “Eroica”, of Weber’s Der Freischütz and of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. It exists in three different versions. The first dates to November 1874, the second to 1878 and the third to 1880.
The second version differs from the first because Bruckner revised the first two movements and the finale. Moreover, he replaced the original Scherzo with another, completely new one, called “Hunt” Scherzo (“Jagd-Scherzo”).
In the third version, Bruckner composed a new finale.
The present recording refers to the 1878-1880 edition.
From what it is possible to judge so far, Andris Nelson’s cycle of Bruckner’s symphonies is going to be one of the best ever recorded. His conduction is insightful and inspired, capable of enlightening the depth of Bruckner’s mysticism and to highlight even the most subtle nuances of the score. The Symphony appears as a rich, intense work thanks also to the refined playing of the Gewandhausorchester.
From a general point of view, the choice of tempos is particularly important. It allows Nelson to develop the profound spirituality of the work, without missing a single passage. It is precisely for this reason that every climax is carefully and effectively prepared, without hurry and with remarkable attention for every detail. The work is chiselled in the most perfect way.
The extraordinary blend of the orchestral colours gives the final touch. The recorded sound is rich and detailed and preserves the silky playing of the strings, the blazing and burnished sound of the brasses and the smoothness of the woodwinds.
Wagner’s Prelude from Lohengrin
As stated before, Wagner’s Prelude from Lohengrin precedes Bruckner’s Symphony. In the present case, this is the best introduction you can wish for.
The Prelude develops as the revelation of something mysterious and arcane that the soft playing of the strings surrounds with grace and beauty from the very beginning. Little by little, Nelson elicits from the orchestra the most shimmering and bright colours to conjure up an idea of intense luminosity, which of course really appears in the marvellous, painstakingly prepared climax, and that shortly after dissipates in the mesmerizing pianissimo.
Every single detail is appreciable for itself and as part of the whole. Transparency is not merely a quality of the sound, but it is also a fundamental component of the conduction. In this way, Nelson makes clear the message of the Prelude and makes easier to understand the link between Wagner’s Prelude with Bruckner’s Symphony.
The two works have been presented together their high meaning. The Prelude is an explanation of Bruckner’s intense spirituality.
Symphony No. 4: First Movement (Bewegt, nicht zu schnell)
With these premises, the recording of Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4 promises to be amazing and Nelson and the Gewandhausorchester do not disappoint the expectations.
The first movement has features which are its own, but some of them set the tone of the entire performance. For the first time here, we begin to become accustomed to a conduction which is never hurried and which focuses on the scrupulous development of the themes, embellished by the balanced use of nuances and dynamics.
The Gewandhausorchester, one of the finest orchestras in the worlds, is up to its reputation. The blend of the orchestral colours is mesmerizing for its high expressive and technical level. Its accomplishment is equal to the conductor’s inspiration. Definitely, the chemistry between Nelson and the Gewandhausorchester could only be exceptional.
Symphony No. 4: Second Movement (Andante, Quasi Allegretto)
The Andante, Quasi Allegretto stresses with remarkable clarity Bruckner’s mysticism, which is so important in the composition of this movement. Not by chance, Nelsons stated that it is «like a song or a prayer». This is the movement where intimacy and meditation prevail. The soft playing of the orchestra represent them effectively, especially in the vague sound of the strings and in the ethereal woodwinds.
Symphony No. 4: Third Movement (Scherzo. Bewegt – Trio. Nicht zu schnell. Keinesfalls schleppend)
The Scherzo depicts a hunt scene. This is a glorious movement, alternating softness and energy to represent a wide and varied “great scene”. If the previous movement belonged to strings and woodwinds, this is the one which belongs to the luminous sound of the brasses, true heralds of bravery.
Symphony No. 4: Finale (Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell)
The last movement reminds in part of the third, but it is much more varied. It alternates energy with “pastoral” sketches and its tension and dynamism is very much its own.
Few other, now legendary recordings, offer a performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 comparable to the present one. The empathy between Andris Nelson and the Gewandhausorchester, the conductor’s insight and sensitivity and the amazing playing of the orchestra are strictly linked to each other and their interaction creates one of the most vibrant renditions of this work.
For all these reasons, we will expected the next instalment of the cycle (the Symphony No. 7) with even more impatience than this.