Symphony No.4 in E flat (Romantic) [“Second version of the 1877/8 Nowak Edition (published 1953) with 1880 Finale”]
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 14 & 16 June 2011 in Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: November 2011
CD No: LSO LIVE LSO0716
Duration: 69 minutes
Some very quiet but audible electronic fluttering intrudes at the very opening and just creeps into the tremolo beginning of the symphony. A momentary distraction soon forgotten given that the performance is masterly and compelling.
As might be expected from Bernard Haitink, a Bruckner interpreter of many decades, nothing is made sensational or ‘of the moment’. The first movement, launched by a confident and expressive horn solo from David Pyatt, expands ‘as one’ with just the right amount of tension and expectation – the music is never over-burdened – and is given glorious release at climactic moments; elsewhere, the music’s recesses – the secluded forests to the fortissimos’ mountain tops – have a delicious secrecy to them.
Throughout, the LSO is in wonderful form, strings (Haitink employs all-important antiphonal violins) have a lovely sheen and gratifying depth and are also unanimous with decoration, woodwinds are expressively lovely, and brasses are present without overpowering the rest of the orchestra. It’s an integrated sound without being bland, and perfectly complements Haitink’s lived-in but not lethargic approach. His long-term appreciation of the movements’ generous structures is patiently explored, climaxes built unerringly. The end of the first movement is thrilling, horns and timpani to the fore. The ‘slow’ second movement for once has its quasi allegretto upgrade observed and a nocturnal march ensues, violas catching moonlit beams.
The scherzo is measured, brasses are crisply heraldic, woodwinds deft, and the double basses offer purposeful tread. The trio is caressed but not dawdled and offers pastoral contrast. The mighty finale finds Haitink once again distinguishing between peaks and climaxes, mixing grandeur, resolve and inner sanctums to potent effect. Arrival at the coda is made inevitable (brass and timpani crunch out a significant figure – just that bit louder but significantly so), the long climb to the absolute summit awed and awesome.
With a recording that is naturally balanced, alive to dynamic changes, and which has somewhere to swell to in the loudest passages, this is a distinguished account of a much-recorded symphony; with selfless devotion, Haitink and the LSO give us a performance built to last.