A.Bruckner, Symphony No.4, P.Herreweghe / Orchestre des Champs-Elysee
Compared to other versions, however, the interpretation is a tad choppy. Brucknerites with an open mind will want to hear and probably find pleasure. Other Brucknerites will sneer. Newcomers to the Bruckner 4th will fare better with other recordings, though. There is, for one, Karl Böhm’s seminal recording for Decca. It was one of the few ‘great’ Bruckner recordings that I had not actually had in my collection until recently. A grave omission, as it turns out. Böhm is simply unequalled in propulsion and drive. His 4th never stalls, always sounds like it must go on, always sounds as if the music to come next was the only logical procession. You can’t stop listening to it. His Vienna forces play magnificently, the sound is very good. It is to the 4th what Günter Wand’s live Berlin recording is to the 8th. Rafael Kubelik, another conductor who seemed near-incapable of doing any wrong, offers the most liquid account, where Herreweghe steps over slabs of granite, Kubelik swims through liquid stone. That isn’t the most impressive way to do it (at least not upon first hearing), but the cogency makes one come back time and again. (Sadly the Kubelik is currently only available from Japan.)
The great Daniel Barenboim, a sub-par Brucknerian to my ears, delivers the most impressive 4th on record in his earlier, Chicago recording. It is brash, with its fanfare-touting brass, it is a thrill, it is cheap (metaphorically and literally) and sacrifices Brucknerian spirit for orchestral splendor. The effect is calculated but then also undeniable. That and the great recorded sound and the price make this an easy (grudgingly granted) second choice for those to be initiated to the 4th. Günter Wand’s several recordings are broad but never overwhelming, slender in tone, carefully thought out, self-affacing, beautifully done. I love the two late takes I have, preferring the live recording with the NDR (coupled with my by far favorite Schubert 5th) over the -- also live -- Berlin recording by a slight margin. Still, my particular penchant for Wand taken into consideration, Böhm must still be the first choice.