Bruckner:Symphony No. 6
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For a long time, Anton Bruckner s Sixth Symphony (alongside the Second) was regarded as something of a poor relation in his immense symphonic oeuvre, although the composer himself had moodily referred to it as his boldest. Over the decades, in view of its performance figures and recordings, this changed significantly: The work has now secured itself a permanent place in the repertoire. The Sixth Symphony belongs to the creative process of the two preceding symphonies, the Romantic Fourth and the Fifth, and is now understood as an important preliminary stage in Bruckner s last great upsurge that followed the composition of the Te Deum and culminated in the sublime grandeur of his final symphonies, the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth. The very solemn Adagio of the Sixth Symphony, in particular, provided the model for the famous Adagio of the Seventh Symphony that followed it. The recent Munich concert performance of May 2017 has now been released by BR-Klassik. This outstanding interpretation of one of the key compositions in the late Romantic symphonic repertoire is conducted by Bernard Haitink.
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Haitink brings years of mastery to the outer movements. I don't think I've heard the Majestoso better paced and organised. So why only three stars? The Adagio. Sehr Feierlich, one of Bruckner's most profoundly moving utterances, is underwhelming. There are two problems, I think. First, at 15.19, it's on the quick side. Haitink doesn’t give those arching melodies enough time to breathe and expand. Second, and more ruinously, is the lack of hushed intensity. Haitink makes some amends in the movement’s closing pages, but it's too little too late. All in all, not sufficiently Feierlich for my tastes. Comparison with the likes of Blomstedt (Querstand) and Schaller (Profil) shows what’s missing.
Once again, the BR Klassik engineers deserve credit for producing what is on the whole an excellent recording of a live event in the otherwise troublesome acoustic of Munich’s Gasteig.
There’s no doubt that Bruckner was manic when he composed the Sixth and its finale in particular. That’s fine by me. We all need to stay sane, even if that means counting stars or leaves as Bruckner did. In recognition of this, the B6 needs a healthy swig of exuberance. As I hear this thoughtful, well-paced performance of the Sixth, it’s underdone in this department. Consider for instance 4’16”ff in the finale: it’s not the shambles that it needs to be. Even the close of the first movement is a trifle stiff in its phrasing.
Robustness becomes the B6. It’s not hard to glean that Haintink loves this symphony but I wonder if he adores it a little too much or alternatively, being conscious of time, he wants to say goodbye to it tenderly – to wit, the coda itself in the first movement (13’56”ff) or finale (at 3’02”ff); in both instances, the performance threatens to stall or verges on affectation from the best of intentions. I also suggest that it is under-recorded in the bass. Consider the build-up to the timpani recapitulation in the first movement (from 7’21” onwards): where are the double-basses, if not the cellos? The eruption of the timpani itself shortly thereafter is not the last word in incendiarism (Karajan delivers a firestorm at that point).
Praised be Uncle Bernard for his loyal service to Bruckner over fifty years or so. It remains to be seen how many of his artefacts will make it to Stonehenge where the solstice awaits those immortals in our midst.