Day 17: Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major (Barenboim)

My “office” this morning is not one I can even show you.

It’s a Big Apple Bagel store so packed full of people that I couldn’t take a picture now without a release form signed by all of them. (Especially this grandfatherly type guy playing kootchie-koo with a tiny baby seated on the table facing him. I can’t see the baby’s face. But his is bursting with over-exaggerated emotions for the benefit of the wee one.)

So, you’ll have to imagine it.

What you don’t have to imagine – even though I, myself, find it hard to believe – is that today starts a new symphony by Anton Bruckner, his Fourth.

There’s a benefit to this 63-day leg of my Bruckner journey – the rapidity of moving from conductor to conductor, from symphony to symphony. In my previous Bruckner journey (144 Days With Bruckner And Me), it seemed to take forever to cycle through each symphony. This time (especially because three of the eight conductors didn’t have box sets that included Symphonies 1-3), I’m cycling through much more quickly.

Which brings me to…

This morning, I’m listening to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major (WAB 104), nicknamed “Romantic,” interpreted by Argentine-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim (1942-), whom I saw conduct the Staatskapelle Berlin in a performance of Bruckner’s Eighth at Carnegie Hall on January 28th of this year.

NOTE: I have two Barenboim CD box sets for this leg of my Bruckner journey. The first (which I’ll call the “Blue Box”) is on the Warner Classics label. The second (which I’ll call the “Pink Box”) is on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The performances in the Blue Box were recorded in the 1990s. The performances in the Pink Box were recorded much more recently, 2012 and 2010.

So…alpha by conductor, then chronological by dates of performance.

That’s the plan.

Because today’s recording comes from the Blue Blox, Barenboim’s orchestra for this performance is the Berliner Philharmoniker. And the music label is Warner Classics, which was awarded “Label of the Year” at the 2016 Gramophone Awards in London last October.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s First in this leg of my journey, visit Day 1.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Second in this leg of my journey, visit Day 6.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Third in this leg of my journey, visit Day 11.

From its entry on Wikipedia:

Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major (WAB 104) is one of the composer’s most popular works. It was written in 1874 and revised several times through 1888. It was dedicated to Prince Konstantin of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst. It was premiered in 1881 by Hans Richter in Vienna to great acclaim.

The symphony’s nickname of Romantic was used by the composer himself. This was at the height of the Romantic movement in the arts as depicted, inter alia, in the operas Lohengrin and Siegfried of Richard Wagner.

This symphony has a “programme,” according to its entry on Wikipedia,

There exists much evidence that Bruckner had a program in mind for the Fourth Symphony. In a letter to conductor Hermann Levi of 8 December 1884, Bruckner wrote: “In the first movement after a full night’s sleep the day is announced by the horn, 2nd movement song, 3rd movement hunting trio, musical entertainment of the hunters in the wood. There is a similar passage in a letter from the composer to Paul Heyse of 22 December 1890: “In the first movement of the “Romantic” Fourth Symphony the intention is to depict the horn that proclaims the day from the town hall! Then life goes on; in the Gesangsperiode [the second subject] the theme is the song of the great tit [a bird] Zizipe. 2nd movement: song, prayer, serenade. 3rd: hunt and in the Trio how a barrel-organ plays during the midday meal in the forest.

Regarding the 1878/90 Version that Barenboim used, according to its entry on Wikipedia,

After the lapse of almost a year (during which he composed his String Quintet in F Major), Bruckner took up his Fourth Symphony once again. Between 19 November 1879 and 5 June 1880 he composed a new finale – the third, though it shares much of its thematic material with the first version[3] – and discarded the Volksfest finale. Thus the 1880 version is the same as the 1878 version but with a new finale. This was the version performed at the work’s premiere on 20 February 1881, which was the first premiere of a Bruckner symphony not to be conducted by Bruckner himself. This version is sometimes referred to as the 1878/80 version.

On to the objective stats…

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major (WAB 104), composed 1873–1874
Daniel Barenboim conducts
Barenboim used the “1878/90 version,” according to the CD sleeve
Berliner Philharmoniker plays
The symphony clocks in at 68:23
This was recorded in Berlin, Germany, in October of 1992
Barenboim was 50 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 50 when he finished composing it the first time (he revised it several times after that)
This recording was released on the Warner Classics label

Bruckner wrote his symphonies in four movements. The time breakdown of this one (Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major), from this particular conductor (Barenboim) and this particular orchestra (Berliner Philharmoniker) is as follows:

I. Bewegt, nicht zu schnell……………………………………………………………………19:17
II. Andante, quasi allegretto…………………………………………………………………16:17
III. Scherzo. Bewegt (With motion) – Trio: Nicht zu schnell (Not too fast)……………………………………………………………………………………………………….10:22
IV. Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (With motion, but not too fast)……………………………………………………………………………………………………….22:26

Total running time: 68:23

Okay. Now, here are the subjective aspects:

My Rating:
Recording quality: 5
Overall musicianship: 5
CD liner notes: 5 (a heavy booklet, 1/4-inch thick with lengthy essays translated into English, French, German, and what appears to be Portuguese)
How does this make me feel: 5

I had forgotten how much I loved Bruckner’s Fourth. I love French horns, anyway. And the opening movement features them prominently.

In fact, the entire first movement is a corker. It’s brilliant from start to finish. That and movement three (Scherzo) are my favorites.

I love the sound of a English hunt. And the Scherzo sounds as British as an Austrian could possibly make it sound.

I’ve mentioned before that all-digital recordings (signified by the symbol DDD) are sometimes brittle. Too crisp. Not warm.

That’s not the case with this recording.

It’s lively, warm, and alive.

I love this symphony and I love this interpretation of it.

“Huzzah!”

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