> Anton Bruckner - Symphony No. 6 [JQ]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 6 in A major
Original version (1879/81)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester
conducted by Günter Wand
Recorded 16-25 August 1976 in the Grosser Sendesaal (now the Klaus von Bismarck Saal), Cologne
BMG RCA 09026 63936 2 [53’18"]


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Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony has always been something of a "Cinderella", the least frequently performed of his last six symphonies. This has always surprised me because I find it approachable and rewarding.

In the last few years of his life Günter Wand recorded five of the last six symphonies ‘live’ with the Berlin Philharmonic, all of them very distinguished performances. The Sixth was the one that ‘got away’, unless, that is, BMG have an unissued recording buried in their vaults. I hope so because this present reading, taken from Wand’s complete cycle made for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, is less than wholly successful, I feel.

For me the trouble lies in the first movement. Unusually for Bruckner this begins not with a string tremolando but with a taut, rhythmical figure on the violins. This is a trap for conductors for the rhythm itself invites a forward-moving tempo. However, if the speed is set too fast the music does not unfold with the necessary majesty. Strangely, Wand, master Brucknerian though he is, adopts a tempo which, for this listener at least, is too urgent and not what I would understand by maestoso, which is Bruckner’s marking. Wand’s tempo is approximately minim = 62, compared with minim = 50 adopted by Klemperer in his 1964 recording with the New Philharmonia (EMI). Georg Tintner in his 1995 Naxos account is almost identical to Klemperer at minim = 49. Some may find the slower speed drags but to me it gives the necessary breadth to the main material of the movement.

When the music slows for the second subject (track 1, 1’ 40") Wand’s speed is much closer to Klemperer’s and I feel more comfortable with his pacing. There is much to admire in Wand’s handling of the first movement as a whole but the briskness, which, of course, reasserts itself every time the first subject reappears, seems to me to be a major flaw. It is for this reason that when the coda to the movement begins (track 1, 13’14") there is, most unusually for Wand, little sense of mystery or suspense, especially when set beside Klemperer. One small point. The movement ends with a crotchet chord but Wand holds the chord on for a minim. By contrast, Klemperer, who has in any case handled the molto rall in the final bars much better, observes the correct note value. This may seem a really pedantic point but the curt final chord this surely conveys Bruckner’s intentions accurately. All in all, this is a disappointingly prosaic account of the first movement from a conductor whose interpretations of Bruckner I usually find so satisfying and well judged.

Thereafter things improve. The Adagio is presented with Wand’s usual acute sense of pacing (though I prefer the New Philharmonia’s principal oboe more plangent tone in the vital solo at the start of the movement.) Wand judges the speed and structure of this movement very well. The scherzo, too, is well done. The tempo for the trio section may strike some listeners as a trifle broad but I found it convincing.

In the finale Wand’s basic tempo is a touch fleeter than Klemperer’s but the difference is not significant. Both conductors are successful in this movement, I think. It is not as straightforward a piece as it seems (again, the choice of tempo is critical) but both Wand and Klemperer convey the drama of the movement very well, I think.

Wand’s performance has many good things in it and his orchestra plays well for him. However, the tendency to hurry in the first movement worries me. As it is, my allegiance to Klemperer’s gaunt and majestic reading remains unshaken. However, for those who find Klemperer too severe Wand may be a good alternative and BMG’s re-mastered sound is richer and fuller than that on EMI’s recording. A qualified recommendation, then. I’d recommend intending purchasers sample the first movement before buying and if the brisk tempo is not a concern then I doubt you will be disappointed by the remainder of the reading.

John Quinn

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