Day 18: Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major (Barenboim)

My “office” this morning was a doctor’s office.

Two of them, actually.

So I don’t really have any pictures to show – other than the one I took of my ninja on the patient table.

Ninja?

You mean you haven’t heard the ninja story?

It’s a fun one. I’ll share it sometime.

In a nutshell, when my wife travels, she picks a ninja out of a box of them. I do the same. Then, when we’re out doing everyday stuff, we add our ninjas to the mix, take pictures, and text them to each other.

The last time my wife left (usually it’s for business purposes; however, her most recent trip was a vacation to Alaska to spend time with her family), our ninjas took a walk on the boardwalk an hour before her flight. (Mine is the blue one on the right.)

During the week she was away, my ninja’s eyes got bigger than his stomach. (I had to help him finish the sandwich.)

The purpose of our ninja pictures is to bring humor to each other when we’re apart, and to keep us connected. It works, too. We often make each other laugh. And we always feel connected because of the pictures we share throughout the day.

Anyway, that’s the ninja story, quickly told.

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 years recorded.

That’s the plan.

Because today’s recording comes from the Pink Blox, Barenboim’s orchestra for this performance is the Staatskapelle Berlin. And the music label is Deutsche Grammophon, one of my all-time favorite labels for Classical music.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s First with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 2.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s Second with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 7.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s Third with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 12.

If you don’t want to know about those previous performances, keep reading.

The composer of these symphonies is Austrian Anton Bruckner (1824-1896).

But you already knew that.

In my previous exploration of Bruckner conductors (144 Days With Bruckner And Me), I established a system whereby I posted the objective information first. Then “rated” it at the end.

That’s how I’ve been doing it this time around, too.

I won’t go into great detail, but I do want to point out again that thanks to the information in the “Pink Box” I discovered two things about Daniel Barenboim that I didn’t know before:

1. He started a music label called Peral Music, which bills itself as “For the thinking ear.” It’s a very fine web site, with a lot of music, books, and DVDs featured on it.

2. He’s an author. Once I discovered that, I bought two of his books, one I’ve already started reading called Everything Is Connected: The Power of Music.

Ad now it’s time for the objective stats about today’s performance:

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major (WAB 104), composed 1873-1874
Daniel Barenboim conducts
Barenboim used the “1878/1880 version,” according to the liner notes
Staatskapelle Berlin plays
The symphony clocks in at 63:53
This was recorded in Berlin, Germany, in June of 2010
Barenboim was 68 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 50 when he finished composing it (the first time)
This recording was released on the Peral Music label (licensed to Deutsche Grammophon)

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 (Staatskapelle Berlin) is as follows:

I. Bewegt, nicht zu schnell……………………………………………………………………17:37
II. Andante, quasi allegretto…………………………………………………………………14:52
III. Scherzo. Bewegt (With motion) – Trio: Nicht zu schnell (Not too fast)……………………………………………………………………………………………………….10:37
IV. Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (With motion, but not too fast)……………………………………………………………………………………………………….20:47

Total running time: 63:53

Okay. Now, here are the subjective aspects:

My Rating:
Recording quality: 4
Overall musicianship: 5
CD liner notes: 3 (very thin booklet with a sparse essay about Bruckner, the orchestra, and Barenboim translated into English, German, and French)
How does this make me feel: 5

The horns at the beginning of the first movement are recorded very loudly. So they stand out, which I like.

This entire performance is recorded loudly, actually. I can hear every rustle of a chair, every instrument. Every cough or sniff. Every movement of a music stand. The pizzicato starting around the 9:20 mark in the Andante is about as crystal clear as any I’ve ever heard.

The word that describes this recording is sprightly. It’s nimble. Powerful. But quick.

Like a ninja.

When I first heard this, I wasn’t as gripped by it as I was Barenboim’s previous performance (Day 17). It has a different vibe to it, different entirely. The instruments are (as I mentioned) louder. But there’s something else about it that sounds different. Hmm. What is it?

There’s a spaciousness between the instruments.

That’s it. Space.

Some of them (like the low thrum-thrum-thrum) of the strings near the end of the Andante) seem to stand out more than they did in previous recordings.

But the spaciousness allows each one to be clearly heard.

It’s this very clear quality – with the space between the instruments – that makes this performance special. (Aside from the brilliance of the subject matter, of course). In this interpretation, the Andante became my second favorite movement, after the first. I think the Andante beats the Scherzo, even the Scherzo to Bruckner’s Fourth sounds like a fox hunt in merry olde England.

Highly recommended.

In fact, this warrants a big “Huzzah!” from me.

The DG label kind of skimped out with this box set, though. Put no time or effort into the liner notes. They’re barely here – about, in fact, with the liner notes in the Simone Young box set.

Recordings this good deserve better.

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