> Bruckner - Hartmann [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 6 (1879-81)
Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)

Symphony No. 6 (1953)
South West German Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner
Rec 27-28 October 1982, Hans Rosbaud Studio, Baden Baden
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.051 [79.59]


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Ferdinand Leitner enjoyed a distinguished career, in his native Germany as well as in Italy and the Netherlands, until his death in 1996 at the age of 84. He was particularly associated with the central German repertoire in the concert hall and the opera house, and he was always particularly associated with the symphonies of Bruckner, although he made few commercial recordings of them.

It is pleasing, therefore, that Hänssler Classic have issued this disc (there will be others too) of a studio recording he made in Baden Baden in 1982. The recorded sound is rich and faithful, and the venue has an acoustic which suits orchestral music well, including the special demands of a Bruckner symphony.

At practically eighty minutes the disc is also excellent value. Most recordings of Bruckner 6 come with nothing else, but here we have the bonus of another Sixth Symphony, that of Karl Amadeus Hartmann. And a very fine symphony it is too.

There are two movements: a rich textured, brooding Adagio and a Presto toccata which includes a sequence of fugal developments. An element of virtuosity is important in the latter, and Leitner directs his orchestra with aplomb. The composer admitted a Brucknerian influence as far as the sonorous climaxes of the first movement were concerned, and again Leitner's performance convinces us that we are listening to a major symphonic statement. The recorded sound is less impressive. It is by no means damaging, but it fails to provide either enough richness or enough detail. Even so, this is well worth hearing, and the timpani led final bars are as exciting as anyone could wish a symphony to be.

Bruckner's Sixth is not easy to bring off. That is not a criticism of the music, which is wholly worthy of the master who created it (and there can be no higher praise), but rather that there are certain aspects of its performance that challenge the conductor and the orchestra. As with most other recorded performances, Leitner's is a mixture of the convincing and the not so convincing. On the credit side are the richly sonorous tuttis, for which all praise to the engineers, and the driving rhythmic thrust of a most exciting scherzo.

The first movement too has a well chosen basic tempo, and no lack of impressive sonority as the climaxes build. But what is lacking in this movement is the special mystery of the evocative passages featuring quieter music, not least the marvellous and subtle rocking phrases involving the horns, shortly before the build up the powerful coda.

Bruckner's Sixth has one of the great slow movements, and Leitner's tempo for this Adagio strikes the right balance between a flowing momentum and a serious tone. Again it is the more sonorous passages which fare best, since the quiet music needs be quieter than this for maximum impression: a genuine pianissimo makes all the difference in this music. Therefore the appropriate air of mystery, like that genuine pianissimo, is missing - a case, then, of almost but not quite.

The finale is taken at a steady tempo - Günter Wand (RCA) is rather faster for example - but there is abundant detail and no lack of momentum. Therefore when the Symphony moves to its powerful conclusion, involving the return of the first movement's principal theme, the effect is absolutely final, and one of the strongest aspects of the performance. For Leitner was a fine conductor, and his memory is well served by both these performances.

Terry Barfoot

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