Nelsons’ Bruckner 4: Still Not Ready for Prime Time

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 8

Let’s give credit where credit is due: this is vastly better than Nelsons’ dreadful Bruckner Third, but hearing this account of the Fourth you might still be forgiven for wondering what it is about Bruckner, other than a contractual opportunity, that drives Nelsons to record him in the first place. His approach, especially evident in the finale, seems to be this: take each section and play it in its own tempo without too much regard for its surroundings or place in the whole. At first, the result is interesting, but ultimately the music falls apart. The coda, despite Nelsons’ interventionist manipulation of balances and dynamics, oddly lacks both mystery and grandeur.

The first movement, which offers less opportunity for such antics, goes well, and features some very fine playing from the Leipzigers, but the slow movement is lethal. Bruckner marks it “Andante quasi Allegretto.” Nelsons takes it at a true Adagio and the result is a wrist-slitting seventeen-plus minutes of misery. Matters improve in the scherzo, but I’m still at a loss to understand why so many conductors refuse to clarify the brass triplets at the ends of sections, or why Nelsons makes a gratuitous diminuendo before the final climax that obliterates our ability to hear anything other than a string tremolo with a timpani roll underneath it.

The Lohengrin Prelude, which leads off the program, is very beautifully played by the orchestral strings, but the more I hear Bruckner performances like this the more evident it becomes that young(ish) conductors have lost contact with the spirit of classical and romantic music–with the sonata style that, even in Bruckner, provides the framework within which it operates. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be played the old-fashioned way. You can treat it as Nelsons does, as “modern music,” meaning a series of relatively independent sound blocks placed in sequence, but at the end of the day this is still symphonic music. It has to hold together, and here it doesn’t quite.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Jochum/Berlin (DG)

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