Daniel Barenboim has
excellent credentials as a Bruckner
conductor, and if further evidence were
needed this fine performance from his
second recorded cycle, with the Berlin
Philharmonic Orchestra, provides it.
The Sixth is often
seen as a problematic symphony, and
it is true that it has proven elusive
to its interpreters, both in the concert
hall and on the sound-stage. Yet the
composer’s mastery is beyond doubt.
One of the finest among
previous recorded performances was Barenboim’s
earlier version with the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra (DG), which if anything is
at least a match for the new version.
Each is thoroughly worthy of the listener’s
attention, and does justice to Bruckner’s
vision. The slightly more flexible approach
to phasing found in the Chicago performance
makes it one of the best Bruckner Sixths
ever recorded, and while the present
version does not quite come off to the
same extent, it remains very fine and
will give immense pleasure.
For a start, Barenboim’s
judgement in matters of tempo is eminently
reliable. Nowhere in Bruckner is this
more important than in setting the pulse
at the beginning of No. 6. Barenboim
does so with assurance, and he builds
the climax strongly too. The ensuing
gesangperiod might perhaps have achieved
more flexibility of phrasing, but the
Berlin strings do sound well and make
a full effect. The climax of the development
is appropriately thrilling, but the
passage with the quiet rocking horns
echoing fragments of the principal motif
is rather heavy.
Bruckner 6 boasts one
of the great slow movements, and the
Berlin string playing does it particular
justice. For me the highlight is the
third subject, a restrained and dignified
funeral march that sets the tone for
one of the composer’s most exalted developments.
To make the mark in this music, the
quieter the dynamic the better, and
while Barenboim is eloquent enough,
the orchestra is just a little loud
in the quieter passages.
The mercurial scherzo
is nicely pointed by Barenboim, aided
by a recording which allows for details
to be heard in the context of a full
The finale is in many
respects the most challenging movement.
There are some awkward changes of gear,
which although skillfully written out
do elude some interpreters. Barenboim
is not among them, of course, but his
might have gathered in the contrasting
elements more closely with the aim of
securing a single vision. As it is,
the sheer momentum of the principal
material, with its climax in favourite
‘Bruckner rhythm’, carries the day.