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The silhouette of Bruckner arriving in heaven, bowing humbly before the grateful Master of Bayreuth, marks the ultimate reward of his endless labours. I am always captivated by that opening theme and its answering subject, its work-out, and the following two movements. Somehow, the final movement remains cumbersome, with the sliding, echoed scale motive that interrupts the flow at times, always sounding slightly bizarre, a conscious attempt to link the previous subject to the next, that obtrudes into the text.

Knappertsbusch, in a 1962 live broadcast with the NDR-Sinfoneorchester, Hamburg, literally goes for the jugular, hurling the crude banality of the music's protest with its discordant message into stark relief. Elsewhere, the poignant undercurrent of growing mystery that pervades other movements is treated objectively albeit with doubtful ensemble in places absolute in intent, minus any degree of beautous phrasing to stress Bruckner's struggle to master symphonic cohesion. This is how this work should sound. Smooth down the responses and the message is lost.

Despite allegiances to the final 1890 version that most conductors prefer, the 1877 version is more rewarding for its richer scoring and extended ideas that make better sense of that Finale. This was Horenstein's choice for his Cheltenham Festival performance with the BBC Northern Orchestra, to be released shortly on the BBC Legends label.

Symphony 4 is celebrated for its horn calls that turn into hunting motives for the third movement. Its obvious beauties are the clear textures and the expressive melodies and harmonies, where nobility and pastoral pastimes go side by side.

Lower string sections take over the nostalgic slow movement, the music worked up to a central climax by stages, returning to sadness and regret for the coda. The wonderfully joyous third is the essence of high spirits and camaraderie by all who enjoy the freedom of the open air and the sport of life, while the stern stridency of the Finale's opening measures acts as a warning that there is a seriousness to existence after all. This is soon dispelled by the other themes that bring light and relief in their stead. The central section restates the material with different innovations, the whole building up architecturally into a resplendent coda, with the horn calls repeated fortissimo at the close.

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Copyright © 8 July 2001 Bill Newman, Spoleto, Italy




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