Magazine article Gramophone

Back to Bruckner's Roots: Philip Clark Talks to Franz Welser-Most about Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, the 'Romantic'

Magazine article Gramophone

Back to Bruckner's Roots: Philip Clark Talks to Franz Welser-Most about Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, the 'Romantic'

Article excerpt

Franz Welser-Most is a Bruckner junkie. His new DVD with the Cleveland Orchestra of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony was recorded live at St Florian Monastery in Upper Austria, where Bruckner is interred under the organ he once played in his role as church organist. But taking Bruckner to St Florian is about more than returning the music to its spiritual home. 'When I performed his Fifth and Eighth Symphonies in St Florian,' he tells me in his office inside the Staatsoper in Vienna, 'I realised something very special. Problems of balance don't exist. I'm speculating now, but I think Bruckner tried to transpose the acoustics of St Florian into the concert hall. And by the time he wrote the 1888 version--the one I chose to perform--balance was no longer an issue.'

Welser-Most takes me inside the score, shows me why. 'Look at this passage, first movement, page 32. The upper woodwinds are marked triple forte, marcato .Underneath, the second and third trumpets crescendo over four bars, then the first trumpet leads with a crescendo into the oncoming fortissimo .Using these dynamics, Bruckner guarantees the trumpets will have presence; had they been fortissimo throughout, they would have been too dominant. This is not typical organ-writing, where you pull out 40 registers. Bruckner is colouring and refining, giving the musical phrasing added meaning through his instrumentation.'

Bruckner as organist, that hoary old 'cathedrals of sound' cliche, could be an interpretative cul-de-sac, Welser-Most warns. 'If he was only interested in religion, why did he stop writing church music? This last version of the Fourth Symphony is a very interesting example of where he tried to go. It's clear he has looked at other composers, Mahler especially, to figure out how to communicate more efficiently his basic musical ideas to the audience.

'Architecturally the form is Classical, even though he expands it with a third subject. He adds material that goes way back in history: Gregorian chant, elements of the Baroque. He is totally obsessed with the sound world Richard Wagner created, while harmonically he was way ahead of his own time.'

I'm taken on an accelerated journey through the symphony's metronome-mark ley lines. Welser-Most points out that, in a symphony stretching across 70 minutes, the only really slow music happens in the coda. The symphony begins at crotchet=72; the second movement is crotchet=66. …

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