London Philharmonic/Vänskä – Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony 1888 – Janine Jansen plays Tchaikovsky

Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Symphony No.4 in E flat (Romantic) [1888 version, edited by Benjamin Korstvedt]

Janine Jansen (violin)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 16 November, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

A déjà-vu programme – already been there at the Proms – for it was only on 8 September that Janine Jansen last played Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in London, and just over a year since Osmo Vänskä brought the 1888 Bruckner 4 to the capital.

Janine JansenWhereas Jansen seduced in this music with the Philadelphians, with the London Philharmonic she was a little unsettled, wrestling with her part and forcing it (and her tone) along. Too rhapsodic, the first movement seemed contrived, and the finale alternated between being hard-pressed and treacly distended. Gutsy and languorous she could also be, and the dynamic range was wide; but somehow it didn’t add up. The LPO and Vänskä were faithful accompanists (full of expectation from the off) and woodwind solos were quite lovely; especially from flute and clarinet in the middle-movement ‘Canzonetta’. As an encore a more relaxed and easeful Jansen offered ‘Mélodie’ from Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher (Opus 42) as arranged for strings (the original is with piano) by Alexandru Lascae; here was something simple, charming and inviting.

Osmo VänskäIn this ‘reversal of fortune’ concert Osmo Vänskä made far more of the Bruckner than seemed to be the case at the Royal Albert Hall. As so often when dealing with the many revisions of Bruckner symphonies, one has to keep an open mind as to how much the composer was influenced by well-meaning if ultimately meddling friends. The Fourth Symphony has an arresting Original Version, a familiar oft-played Revision, and there is this 1888 version that has numerous changes of scoring, dynamics, slurs and staccatos, and harmonic emendations – a lot of which seem superfluous and gratuitous – and there is even a foreshortening of the scherzo (admittedly an effective diminuendo leading into the trio) and a cut when it is reprised (difficult to justify). The cymbal clash as the finale first lifts off is a great addition though, but not the gentle wisps in the coda. At least it’s clear where seemingly ‘inauthentic’ touches come from, as we have inherited from recordings by such as Furtwängler, Eugen Jochum and Knappertsbusch; then Robert Haas, followed by Leopold Nowak, edited the 1880 score as the one of choice; all this before the 1874 original (quite different in itself and to anything that followed) made a comeback.

Osmo Vänskä believes in the 1888 version, but he may have overlooked how coercible Bruckner seems to have been; but at least we have this score newly viewed by Benjamin Korstvedt. It could just be though that William Carragan (another Bruckner editor) is nearer the mark: that Bruckner’s first thoughts for any one symphony are the best in their instinctive innovation. They certainly stop one thinking about ‘cooks’ and ‘broth’.

All this said, 1888/Korstvedt is interesting – if no more than that – as a link to why past conductors did what they did (1888 was the Fourth Symphony’s first published score) and it’s good to hear it from time to time, providing the numerous changes to what might be regarded now as the ‘standard revision’ (1880) are not considered definitive; they rarely sound it – this despite an impressive performance, one launched by an impromptu horn solo from Mark Vines. Vänskä and the LPO had the measure of the first movement’s mystery and sweep, but the succeeding Andante (for that is all it is marked) – while very beautiful and very expressive, soulful even – dragged. The scherzo was deft and incisive (although 1888 allows too many unpersuasive features in the brass) and the flute-led trio languid … Vänskä went straight into the finale (luckily no-one applauded as some had earlier), which had its emotional fire well-enough stoked, but Vänskä left some episodes ‘hanging’ at times. The coda – from deep in the forest to mountain top – was suitably awed.

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