Bruckner Symphony No 4 Poschner Capriccio C8084

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Symphony No 4 in E-flat major (1876) ‘Romantic’
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Markus Poschner
rec. 2021, Radiokulturhaus, Vienna, Austria
Bruckner 2024 – The Complete Versions Edition 
CAPRICCIO C8084 [66]

This is the second recording I have reviewed from this ongoing series of Poschner’s Complete Versions Edition of Bruckner’s symphonies for the Capriccio label, which will embrace eighteen recordings shared between the Bruckner Orchestra Linz and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and offer a definitive series for dedicated Brucknerians. My previous review was of the Third Symphony in the original 1873 version edited by Nowak, which I found very acceptable in both interpretation and performance. The Fourth Symphony was written in 1874 and is the most often performed of Bruckner’s eleven symphonies in its 1878-80 form, but this is the original and more controversial version from 1876 discovered by Benjamin Korstvedt when preparing the New Anton Bruckner Collected Works in 2021 and includes revisions such as the two extra measures at the end of the recapitulation of the first movement. In 1877, Bruckner decided that there was too much counterpoint throughout the symphony, as he informed Wilhelm Tappert, who was preparing it for performance: ‘I robbed the best passages of their effectiveness. This quest for imitations is almost a disease’, so he made significant changes, shortening it, excising many of the figurations and contrapuntal textures, making changes in the phrasing, applying what he called ‘rhythmic regulation’ and adding a bass tuba and, later in the third variant, a piccolo. Professor Hawkshaw writes in the notes: ‘The first version, alas, did not see the light of day until 1975 when Leopold Nowak published it, and the indefatigable Bruckner enthusiast Kurt Wäss conducted it with the Munich Philharmonic in Linz on 20 September. Because of the technical performance difficulties that concerned Bruckner and his students in the 1870s and 80s are no longer an issue for today’s orchestral players, we can now enjoy his monumental Fourth Symphony as it was originally conceived.’

I find the scherzo to be most different from other versions and in which the solo horn has prolonged passages. Here Hawkshaw explains: ‘Though it is in E-flat major, the movement opens in the dominant with one of these solos that features the dotted motive, falling fifth and flat 6 degree (in this case G-flat) from the opening subject of the first movement. The two versus three metrical subdivision is also present and will be heard throughout both the Scherzo and Trio.’ This repetition almost hypnotising in its regularity, but some listeners may consider this extraordinary restatement disconcerting, and there are references to the sleep motive from Die Walküre and a lovely canon on the opening horn theme in E major in the coda which are absent in later revisions.

So much is beautiful in this great symphony, and throughout the four movements the great arches of sound are superbly performed by Poschner’s musicians – even more than in the Third Symphony; it is clear that the musicians believe in this version and enjoy playing its often-surprising themes. The recording is excellent, as if one is in the middle of the concert hall.

There are other complete cycles underway at present, of which the most significant are the recordings by Thielemann with the Vienna Philharmonic and the continuing exploration by Gerd Schaller and his Philharmonie Festiva on Profil. There is also a release of all the versions of the Fourth Symphony performed by the Bamberger Symphoniker under Jakub Hrůša on the Accentus label that I have not heard (review).

The CD is enclosed in a cardboard slipcase with an informative 32-page booklet in German and English texts by Professor Paul Hawkshaw of the Yale School of Music, Norbert Trawäger, the artistic director of the Bruckner Orchestra Linz, Markus Poschner’s thoughts on the composer, plus his biography and the history of the orchestra together with black and white photos of the composer, the performers and of the autograph score of the Fourth Symphony’s first movement.

This CD is really for those who have already started collecting this series of Bruckner symphonies, but on its own is very much a curiosity for Brucknerians.

Gregor Tassie

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