Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Gunter Wand, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.  Profil PHO6046.

Profil may make me think twice about live recordings. I don't usually care for them; they're too often vague and distant, with a plethora of audience noises in the background, or close-up and uncomfortable. But the several live recordings that the folks at Profil have remastered in the past few years have been of generally excellent sound quality, with only an unfortunate applause at the end to remind one that they are, indeed, live. This recording of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 "Romantic" is no exception.

Conductor Gunter Wand, something of a specialist in Bruckner and Beethoven, was close to ninety when he recorded this symphony with the Munich Philharmonic in 2001. It would be among his last-ever performances and the next-to-last time he would conduct the "Romantic" Symphony, which he had been playing for close to sixty years. To say he knew the score inside and out by then would be an understatement.

Here's the thing: Although Wand, always the old-school conductor, took his time developing the ideas in the music he played, his age may have also had something to do with the broad, slow tempos he adopts here. Not that they don't work; it's just that the symphony is longer than I've ever heard it.

Yet when listening to it, the music seems just right. It doesn't actually strike one as slow. In fact, one could easily make the case that Wand's scrupulous shaping of the music makes the big, dramatic moments all the more momentous by their juxtaposition with a steady, careful buildup. Certainly, this is true of the first and last movements, with their alternating grand passions and outbursts. The meditative Andante works well at a leisurely pace, too, and the "Hunting" Scherzo has just the right zip to it.

Originally recorded for radio broadcast, the performance sounds more than acceptable in its CD transfer. There is ample bloom in the lower midrange, a pleasantly realistic sheen to the strings, and a taut definition in the transients. Moreover, there is a good deal of overall clarity involved that seems to bring this live recording close to the actual concert hall. The disc may not be a number-one choice for the Bruckner Fourth Symphony nor displace Wand's previous couple of studio performances, but it is at least close.

Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa