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
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.