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CD Review

Anton Bruckner

Unitel Classica/C Major Blu-ray 732604

Symphony #4

Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
Unitel Classica/C Major Blu-ray 732604 75m
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan
Also available on DVD 732508:
Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan
Unitel Classica/C Major Blu-ray 738304

Symphony #6

Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
Unitel Classica/C Major Blu-ray 738304 63m
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan
Also available on DVD 732508:
Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan

These two Blu-ray discs mark the continuation of Christian Thielemann's video cycle of the Bruckner symphonies with the Staatskapelle Dresden (I have reviewed the 5th (Unitel Classica/C Major Blu-ray 717904), the 8th (Unitel Classica/C Major Blu-ray 716204), and the 9th – all favorably). Thielemann and the Staatskapelle have stuck with the formula that has worked until now – live performances in the Semperoper Dresden with the same video directors (Agnès Meth for the 4th and Henning Kasten for the 6th, who between them have covered the other discs in the series.) The sound quality is excellent (I listened in PCM stereo) and I have no complaints about the cinematography. Musically speaking, however, the formula works much better for the later and less familiar 6th symphony, than for the frequently played and recorded 4th.

It is hard to fault the Staatskapelle Dresden in the 4th. The playing is of the highest quality, with the solo parts in particular uniformly excellent. However, to my ear the performance, particularly in the first two movements, lacks life and excitement. The Blu-ray box quotes an unnamed reviewer describing the original performances as "tone-painting" of the highest order. This is a telling comment, capturing both the strengths and the weaknesses of the performance. The price paid for tone-painting is a loss of architectural drama – a good example being the build-up to the climax of the slow movement.

Things improve in the last two movements. The Scherzo reveals an internal sense of structure that is lacking in the performance as a whole (in, for example, the balance between the Scherzo and the embedded Trio). The Finale has a much more impressive opening, clearly helped by a brass section comfortable with the monumental, and the coda is most effective. Overall, however, this rendition of the 4th fails to convince. It is probably the least successful performance to date of this cycle.

Thielemann and the Staaskapelle more than compensate in the 6th, however. The well-shaped and dynamic opening sets the tone. The first movement is chameleon-like in its sudden swings and changes of direction, so maintaining momentum is crucial for continuity. Thielemann does a great job of setting up a tremendous coda (well described by Michael Steinberg as one of Bruckner's most splendid). The momentum of the first movement is matched by the intensity of the slow movement, and the Scherzo offers a fine transition to a powerful Finale. The end of the symphony is met with very strong applause, not just from the audience but also from the orchestra for the conductor. It is well-deserved. This is an outstanding performance of the symphony that Bruckner himself thought his most audacious.

Copyright © 2017, José Luis Bermúdez

Trumpet