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Epstein delivers emotions of Bruckner symphony

MIT Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by David Epstein.
Kresge Auditorium.
March 12.

By Allen Jackson
Staff Reporter

We've been awaiting, with some uncanny anticipation, the arrival of a concert performance by the MIT Symphony Orchestra for some time now, especially since the unfortunate cancellation of the Brahms symphony in January. The only thing more exciting than the arrival of a concert is the arrival of one under the conductorial baton of our illustrious maestro David Epstein. Of course, the only thing more gratifying than a pleasurable expectation is the fulfillment of one, and the March 12 performance of Bruckner's "Romantic" Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major was exceptionally that.

Anton Bruckner, at least to me, is known principally for his almost incessant revisions and dissatisfaction with his own work. Unfortunately, I know little else about this composer other than my study of the work performed. As a symphonist, demonstrated through this fourth symphony, Bruckner revealed his distance from Romanticism. If Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Schubert stand as tall Greek columns, symbolic of that Romantic period, then Bruckner is clearly an outsider in that his works differs so fundamentally from the musical angles which these composers attempted to achieve.

Here, with the "Romantic," Bruckner makes a bold, almost inimitable attempt at vague spaciousness in his thematic development. Certainly, we have the static quadruple structure of the symphony, but Bruckner modifies each of the movements in an attempt to achieve a limpidity of phrasing. The first movement opens with a mysterious horn theme unlike that of either Tchaikovsky's fateful fourth symphony in F minor or Schostakovich's 11th, "Das Jahr 1905," but the Romantic element is there reminding us of our own mortality. The central movements, an Andante and the Beethoven invention, the Scherzo, are the more powerful two within the symphony. They contrast each other with exceptional, almost balletic grace and through that contrast they compliment one another. Because the Andante is said to be "static," then the Scherzo can only be described as eclectic, but in a different sense than, say, the brilliant achievement of Dvorak in his "New World" symphony. Certainly by the time we arrive at the Finale it cannot be said that the coda is an expectation, and it is no less surprising, relating fundamentally to the coda of the Finale of Brahms' third symphony. If this all seems vague and ethereal then it is because the piece itself is so much so that language is inappropriate to describe it. Only through listening and hearing do we achieve the message composers such as Bruckner intended -- his is an excessively emotional piece which loses its chromaticity in review.

It cannot be said that the Epstein performance did not assist in the deliverance of Bruckner's message. Of the performances that I have heard, Epstein, surprisingly, found himself being ranked with Bohm and Bernstein in his conduction of the Bruckner piece. He possesses the musical acumen and interpretative arsenal to deal with works of this level. I can only hope that he will not let us down in the future by denying us an interpretation of a concert concerto. The orchestra has demonstrated that it is capable, although minor flaws managed to seep into the concert. Still, it would be unreasonable and inequitable to charge the group for a flaw or two. The orchestra earned its respect and admiration Friday evening.