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SACD Review

Anton Bruckner

Symphony #4 in E Flat Major "Romantic" (1888)

Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
BIS SACD-1746 Hybrid Multichannel 63:21
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This is the 1888 version of Bruckner's 4th Symphony, wonderfully played by the Minnesota Orchestra. Osmo Vänskä is easily one of the great conductors, especially in music we've all heard before. Unfortunately, the edition he chooses is a detriment to the overall accomplishment. As many listeners know, there are about 26 million ways to play Bruckner, and many of them are simply different for the sake of being different. The 1888 Löwe Edition of the score basically still exists because it can. To recap briefly; the 1874 original is very different than what we know today, and is often recorded for the sake of having the original on hand. The 1880 version gets the most play today, and few see a problem with that. Then we have this 1888 version, which twiddles with some things but sounds a lot like the more popular 1880.

Did I mention that the Minnesota Orchestra sounds brilliant? Because they do. Did I mention that Osmo Vänskä conducts with the utmost intelligence given the material at hand? Because he does. But the music doesn't sound as good here as we know it can, and that's a matter of editions. Sure, it's kind of fun to get a lighter, more chamber-like feel in this work, but that's not what I'm looking for in Bruckner to begin with. I suppose the rabid Bruckner fan can ooh and ahh over every textural and dynamic shift, of which there are many. And yes, there are some that prove illuminating, but not enough to take away my thought that I am listening to an inferior product.

The Minnesota brass are suitably spectacular even when the scoring beats them at their own game. The strings aren't as full as one might expect in this music, and again that's a matter of editions. First-desk playing is outstanding and BIS' sound faithfully captures every hair-trigger difference. Arguing over the various choices for Bruckner has always struck me as a supreme waste of time, but the only thing worse is dumping bad versions on the public at full price in great sound. If this is your cup of tea, I can't imagine anyone else will do it better, but others should proceed with caution.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman