This is Rattle at his best.
Charlotte Gardner 2007
Considering we are still only in May, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic are having a prolific year. Only in March they released their marvellous recording of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem. Now another German masterwork, Bruckner’s Symphony No.4, the “Romantic”. It will be interesting to see whether these two discs can do anything to silence Rattle’s fierce German critics. Rattle has introduced the Berlin Philharmonic to more early music, French and British works, and generally provided eclecticism after Claudio Abbado’s diet of Brahms and Mahler symphonies. However, he is still criticised for not expanding the orchestra’s horizons. Conversely, he also stands accused of neglecting the German symphonic tradition, in particular Bruckner. Well, here is Bruckner for them.
Bruckner himself had a far from an easy ride as he composed what is probably his most popular work. In 1875 the Vienna Philharmonic had rejected all of it except the first movement. Furthermore the 1888 premiere of the Third Symphony was disastrous, with audience members walking out. However, after years of anxious revisions, Symphony No.4 was rapturously received in 1881. Bruckner labelled it the “Romantic”, alluding to it’s depiction of an almost Wagnerian world of medieval castles and hunts in leafy woodland glades; everything that would appeal to his public both then and now.
Rattle has been credited with introducing a greater transparency to the Berlin Philharmonic’s sound and, in this symphony full of changes in texture and orchestration, that strength is played to the full. From the opening bars and first duplet-plus-triplet subject, there is the feeling of barely contained anticipation and tension, leading to triumph as the orchestra ushers the listener in to Bruckner’s fairytale world. Throughout the symphony, the orchestra displays it’s historic richness. The lack of penetration Rattle has been accused of is nowhere in evidence here. The Andante continues to deliver, with its warm, sonorous processional. Finally, the coda of the glorious fourth movement is as it should be; stirring, edge-of-the-seat stuff, with a satisfying climax. This is Rattle at his best.