Day 52: Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major (Gielen)

gielencd4frontThis morning’s conductor of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major (WAB 104), titled “Romantic” by Bruckner himself, is German-born Michael Gielen (1927-). The orchestra is SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Frieburg.

This is the fourth time I’ve found myself listening to Maestro Gielien. (Well, I didn’t exactly find myself listening to him. It’s not like I wandered into a coffee shop and – Lo! and Behold! – there he was…conducting Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. I knew where I was before and after listening to him. And I had planned to listen to him. So, perhaps, “find” isn’t the correct passive participle.) The previous three times were Day 36, Day 20, and Day 4.

brucknergielenboxWhen I let my mouse do the clicking and re-read what I wrote about those first three performances, I see Mr. Gielen is batting .333 with me. Two of the performances left me cold. One thrilled my socks off.

Let’s see what today brings.

But, first, let’s take a look under the hood (the objective aspects to this morning’s recording):

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major composed in 1874
Michael Gielen conducts
Gielen used the 1st version, 1874
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Frieburg plays
The symphony clocks in at 64:13
This was recorded in a Studio-Aufnahme on April 12-15, 1994 in Baden-Baden, Germany
Gielen was 67 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 50 when he composed it
This recording was released on the SWR Music label

Of the 1874 version, its entry on Wikipedia tells us this:

1874 version
Bruckner’s original version, published in an edition by Leopold Nowak in 1975, was composed between 2 January and 22 November 1874. This version was never performed or published during the composer’s lifetime, though the Scherzo was played in Linz on 12 December 1909. The first complete performance was given in Linz more than a century after its composition on 20 September 1975 by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Wöss. The first commercial recording of the 1874 version was made in September 1982 by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eliahu Inbal (CD 2564 61371-2).

From the liner notes, written by Paul Fiebig:

Where then did the Fourth Symphony composed in 1874…acquire its nickname of “Romantic”? Bruckner himself, then and thereafter, offered helpful hints: the first movement depicted a “romantic picture” of a “medieval city,” “morning wake-up calls,” “knights on proud steeds,” “forest murmurs” and “birdsong.”

Why does Michael Gielen play the original version? “Because it captures Bruckner’s first, unadulterated, ‘naive’ idea.” Part from anything else, he believes that in the Fourth, “the improvements and the losses are about evenly balanced.”

Bruckner wrote his symphonies in four parts. The time breakdown of this one (Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major, 1st version, 1874), from this particular conductor (Gielen) and this particular orchestra (SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Frieburg) is as follows:

I. Bewegt, nicht zu schnell (With motion, not too fast) (E-flat major)…………..18:42
II. Andante, quasi allegretto (C minor)…………………………………………………………..17:01
III. Scherzo. Bewegt (With motion) – Trio: Nicht zu schnell (Not too fast) (B-flat major)……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..12:05
IV. Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (With motion, but not too fast) (E-flat major)………………………………………………………………………………………………………………16:21

Total running time: 64:13

Okay. Now for the subjective stuff…

My Rating:
Recording quality: 3
Overall musicianship: 3
CD liner notes: 4 (short essays on the Michael Gielen Edition, Bruckner’s symphonies, and the orchestra, translated into English and German)
How does this make me feel: 3

This is another recording that falls squarely in the “Meh” category.

Ironically, I’m just not feeling the emotion of a symphony the composer titled “Romantic.”

No movement of the four made me want to shout, “Huzzah!” (which is, I guess, my new standard for determining if I like a recording or not; if I want to shout “Huzzah!” listening to it).

So this is another “No Huzzah!” experience for me.

And it’s virtually impossible to explain why.

The recording is competent, adequate. Somewhat flat, to my ears. And, by “flat,” I mean none of the instruments seem to stand out. It’s all the same soundscape. Like looking at a painting. It may be the most beautiful painting in the world. But it’s only two dimensional. That kind of flat. It has a “big” feel to it at times. But the intimacy of “Romantic” isn’t there. I’m not lured, drawn in, enticed.

The performance feels uninspired. Not quite lethargic. But it definitely (to my ears) lacks magic. No Wow Factor. Definitely no “Huzzah!”

As with all of my reviews, your mileage may vary.

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