Bruckner: Symphony No. 4, "Romantic." Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä. BIS SACD-1746 (hybrid Super Audio CD)
Anton Bruckner -- "half god, half simpleton," as Mahler called him -- tinkered incessantly with his music, not always to its advantage. In the case of his Fourth Symphony, the composer prepared five versions of the score between 1874 and 1888. When I was introduced to the "Bruckner problem" in the 1970s, the last of these versions, once unchallenged, was disparaged as a mutilation foisted on an insecure composer by clueless friends.
But the tide may be turning, thanks largely to the work of musicologist Benjamin Korstvedt (formerly of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul), who in 2004 published the first modern edition of the 1888 score. It is Korstvedt's text, sometimes strikingly unlike the familiar version of 1878-80, that Osmo Vänskä has chosen for his just-released recording with the Minnesota Orchestra.
Confirmed Brucknerites will need no further inducement to buy the new CD. Others are more likely to be hooked by Vänskä's singular reading and BIS' vivid recording (made in Orchestra Hall in January 2009). As he did in concert performances preceding the sessions, the conductor honors both the symphony's dramatic and bucolic strands; the transfigured rusticity of the third-movement Trio is especially haunting.
To my mind, however, what distinguishes this disc is the irrepressible energy of the musicmaking -- even if that energy isn't quite matched by a sense of inner turbulence. This is New World Bruckner, keen-edged and forward, perhaps a bit unyielding -- I sometimes miss the sweeter, more rotund string tone that the great Central European orchestras bring to this repertory. But Vänskä's pinpoint control of tension often illuminates Bruckner's syntax, and his orchestra plays like a single organism -- the woodwinds, in particular, are beyond praise. Though I won't be discarding CDs of Furtwängler, Celibidache, Knappertsbusch and Böhm, I'll have to find room for a newcomer on the shelf they inhabit.