Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Karl Bohm, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Decca Originals 475 8403.

In his booklet note, musician and writer Andrew Huth takes Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) to task for labeling his Fourth Symphony "Romantic," preferring that the composer had allowed it to stand on its own rather than impose any kind of program on it. I'm just the opposite; I enjoy listening to the music with visions of knights, castles, hunts, and merrymaking dancing in my head. In any case, maestro Karl Bohm's 1973 recording of the work is among the best, and most complete, renderings of the Fourth on disc, and Decca apparently thought the public liked it so well that they reissued it in their "Originals" series of well-known, well-received classic recordings.

Bohm's interpretation with the Vienna Philharmonic ranks high on my list of all-time favorite Bruckner Fourths. I still consider Klemperer's performance (EMI) foremost for its greater majesty and stronger symphonic weight, and maybe Jochum's older recording (DG) next in line for its greater mystery and atmosphere in the opening movement, but there is no denying Bohm's complete mastery of the score. The whole thing moves implacably forward with strength, grace, and style. In fact, the second movement Andante is perhaps more beautiful under Bohm than under any other conductor.  Bohm was greatly underrated, often thought of as merely a conservative "kapplemeister." Maybe he was sometimes, but not always. Here, there are no fussy heroics, true, just a simple presentation of the music. The work unfolds at its own pace and is all the more eloquent for it.

For their "Originals" reissue, Decca used the same 24-bit/96k Hz master they used for their "Legends" release of half a dozen years earlier. So, if you already have that one, there is no need for this later edition. But if you don't own the recording and you like Bohm's Bruckner, you might consider this later issue. The sound is big, full, rich, detailed, and dynamic. However, there remains a metallic edge, a slight upper-midrange glassiness, that the processing has not completely eliminated. I'd say, don't worry about it.

I enjoy this recording every time I listen to it, and I know it will continue to provide me hours of pleasurable listening. Incidentally, Decca have given the disc a new appearance, too. As with other titles in their "Originals" series, the Bruckner disc looks like a miniature LP, and they have replicated the original cover art on the booklet insert. It's quite distinctive.


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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