LSO/Rattle review – a Brucknerian labour of love

Bruckner is not the only composer whose music exists in several revisions. But he has few rivals as music’s most compulsive tinkerman. Bruckner’s fourth symphony, in particular, underwent multiple and substantial alterations between its first incarnation in 1874 and its more or less final version in 1881 that is among his most popular works. Some of the most important examples provided the inspiration for this highly imaginative LSO concert under Sir Simon Rattle.

In the first half, Rattle directed the LSO in discarded movements from earlier versions of the symphony: a scherzo that was later dumped in favour of the more familiar “hunting” alternative, and the composer’s second shot at writing the finale, a movement that continued to trouble Bruckner for years. In part two, Rattle then gave the world premiere of a new reworking of the symphony’s final version by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs for the Vienna-based Bruckner complete edition and published this year.

Well though the earlier rarities were played and exciting though it was to hear them in the flesh, it was not hard to hear why Bruckner made his changes. The discarded 1874 scherzo, whose obsessive horn calls trigger frantic and nervous responses from the rest of the orchestra, is echt Bruckner all right, but it lacks the epic coherence of the hunting movement that supplanted it. Meanwhile, the so-called “Volksfest” (folk festival) finale of 1878 – apparently receiving its first ever professional performance in this country – is like a sampler of some of the composer’s ideas trapped between the sprawling finale structure of four years previously and the tighter and far more achieved final version.

There should, though, be more concerts like this one. The entire evening was a Brucknerian labour of love, mixing the obscure and the familiar, and provided further proof that Rattle has increasingly embraced this composer as he has aged. He has also turned himself into a much more authentic Brucknerian than he was 20 years ago. He now has the confidence to let the music’s long lines breathe more. Climaxes were unforced and majestic, with some persuasively idiomatic slowings-down at key moments. Throughout, the LSO played with searing commitment and a genuine bloom to their sound.

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