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Bruckner: Symphony No 4 / Janowski, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande

Bruckner / Janowski / Orchestre La Suisse Romande
Release Date: 10/29/2013 
Label:  Pentatone   Catalog #: 5186450  
Composer:  Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRUCKNER Symphony No. 4 (Version 1878/1880) Marek Janowski, cond; O de la Suisse Romande PENTATONE 5186 450 (SACD: 63:27)

I’m irresistibly tempted to say the porridge here is just right, except for the fact that when you deal with Bruckner, there are far more than three bears at stake and a lot more stirring to be done over the stove. Performances of the Bruckner Fourth range from the mystical (think Celibidache) to the craggy, or at least extremely direct (think Blomstedt). Read more Less often do we suppose the music to be graceful, rich, and beautiful as a Brahms symphony. But that is what we have here. This is an unexpectedly wonderful CD. I find it the most beautiful Bruckner Fourth I have ever heard, marginalizing even Kertész’s glowing one in memory.

Marek Janowski has become visible in recent years as a ubiquitous guest conductor, touring with mostly German repertory, which he performs with a remarkable sense of balance and formal integration. He is not generally a passionate conductor, willing to break the musical line to make a point. But he shapes everything in a fluid manner, which sets him apart from Blomstedt, Wand, and from the historical line of clipped phrase endings brought to us by Toscanini and Szell. I first took notice of him a few decades ago on a trip to Europe, encountering on Radio France the most rounded and velvety broadcast of the Brahms Haydn Variations that I had ever heard. In the years since, my assessment of Janowski has risen and fallen with the CDs he has released, some of which come across as emotionally neutral. His recent Brahms recordings with the Pittsburgh Symphony have tended to be fast and rather dry-eyed, his Strauss Alpine Symphony a bit short on mystery, but his Macbeth white hot and the one to seek out.

Similarly, Janowski’s Bruckner cycle with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande does not always probe for brooding depths in the more apocalyptic works. But this Fourth is just about ideal, unfolding naturally and simply, every phrase more ravishing than the last. Given the history of the Suisse Romande in French music (and little else for decades), one is astonished to experience such idiomatic Brucknerian sonority from a Francophone orchestra. Janowski’s earlier recording of this symphony for Virgin with Radio France was marred by just the sort of nasal and blaring brass sound one would fear from traditional French players. But the sound of the Suisse Romande today is golden, beautifully matched, and virtuosic. And the strings are luminous and accurate in a way Ernest Ansermet would never have achieved. This is now an orchestra fully of the first rank. Victoria Hall, which verges to the eye on being a too-muchness of Victorian kitsch, sounds here like one of the great shoebox recording sites, if PentaTone’s miking is any judge. The listener is in an ideal seat for Bruckner, a bit towards the back of the hall. And the surround channels supply a glowing sense of space. There is no edge; nothing grates on the ear.

The performance, itself, is on the swift, flowing side, like Kertész, who is even two minutes faster. I do miss in it one touch we get only from Barenboim: the timpani at the conclusion of the first movement’s development chorale—a nice touch. But Janowski otherwise shapes this section beautifully, surrounding the chorale more than usual with filigree from the cellos. The slow movement usually is what kills conductors—and the audiences forced to plod through it with them. The movement essentially is about walking, stopping, breathing, and then walking on. The sense of pulse must carry it more than any melody. Most conductors miss this, attempt too much, and give the listener an out-of-shape Bruckner, lumbering forward and pausing to deal with what sounds like near-death emphysema. Here, all is as natural as a performance of Beethoven’s Pastorale . The scherzo is nimble and the brass fruity. There are many ways to make this movement whoop appropriately at the end of the hunting call, and these players are as good as any you will find. And Janowski phrases the three great declamations at the beginning of the Finale with a remarkable set of slithers that give them real profile and contour.

It is an unusual experience to emerge from a Bruckner performance—moved and satisfied—without feeling that one has also been assaulted. Shostakovich and Bruckner performances tend to suffer from a public address system syndrome. But here all comes together: thorough, extremely interesting notes, perfect hall, perfect brass and string sound. A Kapellmeister transcends himself—and the effect is emotional nourishment.

As I suggested at the beginning: The porridge is just right for this bear!

FANFARE: Steven Kruger
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in E flat major, WAB 104 "Romantic" by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Vienna, Austria 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 A fine performance November 27, 2013 By Gail M. (Goleta, CA) See All My Reviews "Marek Janowski and the Suisse Romande Orchestra have given us here a very fine performance of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony. This is the revised version of 1878/1880, in which Bruckner had found solutions to the problems of the early version and produced his most popular masterrpiece. The tempos, phrasing, balance, and beautiful playing of all sections of this orchestra can't be faulted in my opinion, and Pentatone has given it very clear sound. The only fault is an editing or microphone placement error in the Finale. Just after 16 minutes into the 4th Movement, a quiet passage for the strings is accompanied by an unpleasant scraping noise that grows louder for about 20 seconds and then fades away. Coming at such a dramatic point where the piece turns toward its conclusion, it may bother some listeners. Otherwwise the transparent sound permits hearing more of the score than one often does in older recordings of this symphony." Report Abuse
 excellent November 25, 2013 By j. noel See All My Reviews "The best !!" Report Abuse
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