Bruckner: Symphony No. 4—Andris Nelsons


This is the second release of a projected Bruckner Symphony cycle by one of classical music’s star conductors with his newest orchestra, the vaunted Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, Germany (named after the hall in which it plays).

The Gewandhaus was for many years under the direction of Kurt Masur, who by title, was the 'General' music director of the entire city. He raised the orchestra's international profile with many fine recordings on Philips. Happily, the 'east' German orchestra did not suffer the same wobbly horn problems that its sister orchestra in Dresden experienced—a hold over from Soviet influence. Masur was asked by the New York Times upon his appointment to the city's Philharmonic, the difference between the Phil and his Leipzig band. 'The New York Philharmonic never makes mistakes. The Gewandhaus sometimes makes mistakes, but what beautiful sounding mistakes'. 

Riccardo Chailly took over after Masur and raised the profile even higher, with many Germans considering the Leipzig band the best in unified Germany (they were/are wrong—definitely top 5, but I'd still consider the Berlin Phil, Berlin Staatsoper, Dresden and Bavarian Radio ahead). 

Now, the legendary orchestra gets another star to direct them, continuing the lineage from Felix Mendelssohn. Andris Nelsons. He's the Latvian trumpeter who shot to prominence with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra—a star-maker orchestra of the first rank. Nelsons made such an impression on the CBSO that the orchestral committee ran to the managing director and begged him to offer the MD job after one rehearsal! Before Leipzig, he was offered the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Boston gang insisted he drop the CBSO after they lured him away from the grimy Midlands to cold but cultured Boston. They had no influence on him, however, in accepting the equally prestigious European gig. He's going to be a busy guy. 

DG is recording the Shostakovich Symphonies with Nelsons and Boston and the Bruckner Symphonies with Leipzig. The Shostakovich recordings have been superb (read our reviews of the 5th/8th and 10th). I did not hear the opening recording of the Bruckner cycle, the 3rd, but this 4th is successful in many ways.  

As you'd expect, the playing is top class. Gorgeous horn solo at the opening, massive tuttis flawlessly in tune, with a lovely ambiance from the home Gewandhaus hall (I presume). 

Tempos are on the slow side, ponderous at times in the Andante quasi allegretto (not only walking pace but a little faster), but all the solo contributions are played beautifully. 

I've heard hundreds of 4ths both live and recordings. Many are gorgeous. Go with any fine Brucknerian (Haitink, von Karajan, Jochum, Bohm), and you are bound to get an excellent performance in superb sound. This release counts among them. You won't be disappointed. However, if you want the zenith of this masterpiece's interpretation, with playing and recording on the same level, I'd point you to two recordings: Bohm/Vienna Phil/Decca and Klemperer/Philharmonia/EMI. Both have everything the others have, plus more. They are the best played (Alan Civil and Roland Berger on horn duty), have the most drama (listen to the ending of the first movement with Bohm or the opening with Klemperer) and are legendary recordings. 

Every orchestra and conductor wants in on the Bruckner phenomenon. Heaven in sound. Who wouldn't? But, sometimes, heaven is not enough. Buy this recording with confidence, but any musician who knows Bruckner 4, realizes they're up against some serious top guns. Your A game may not be enough.  

Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 (Version 1878/1880)
Wagner: Lohengrin - Prelude to Act 1

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Andris Nelsons

Int. Release 16 Feb. 2018

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