This is a great Bruckner 6. It is one of three Bruckner recordings
from Cambreling and the SWR Baden-Baden und Freiburg Orchester.
The others, symphonies 4 and 9, both have their merits, but
this Sixth is the best of them. Cambreling is a very solemn
Brucknerian, which can lead to excessive dourness elsewhere,
but here gives a welcome sense of conviction and purpose.
The opening is a case in point. Those trumpet fanfares a few
pages in give lighter textures than in many of Bruckner’s expositions
– still not light as such, but light for Bruckner. Cambreling
maintains a clarity of texture throughout all these brass passages,
and in the following sections of interplay between the woodwind
and the strings. But he also maintains a keen sense of purpose
throughout, so the music has all the solemnity of the Eighth
or Ninth symphonies’ first movements, which combines well with
the clearer textures of the Sixth’s lighter scoring.
My one complaint is with the lack of atmosphere in the quieter
sections. That focus on direction and purpose often means that
Cambreling takes an excessively functional approach to the quieter
music. This is most apparent in the middle movements. The Adagio
is slightly faster than other recordings I’ve heard, but considerably
more four-square. It is a controlled, almost calculated, reading
with little very little rubato. And the caesura breathing spaces
between the phrases often feel slightly rushed. On the other
hand, the conductor’s tight control of the ensemble allows him
to create chamber music precision in the woodwind ensemble passages.
The Scherzo also risks being too matter of fact. This is the
one movement where Cambreling’s solemnity becomes counter-productive.
It is one of the few movements in Bruckner where a sense of
humour is required to pull off the extreme contrasts between
will-o-the-wisp woodwind and farcically bombastic brass. Cambreling
doesn’t see it that way all, and presents the movement as if
it were the Scherzo of the Ninth, all weight and drive.
These are small complaints though. Cambreling’s interpretation
is both coherent and passionate, essential properties that are
all too rare among Bruckner interpreters. He also has a real
ear for detail. He, the orchestra and the recording team should
all be congratulated for the crispness of the sound and the
extent to which details of the score are articulated. Going
back to the Scherzo, the interplay of the raindrop descending
figures between the flute and the pizzicato strings is excellent,
evenly balanced yet timbrally distinct, a delight! I’m also
impressed with the bass in the mix, with the lower strings,
the lower brass and the timpani coming through with crisp precision,
and with the power and weight that Cambreling’s focused interpretation
requires. The orchestra must know this piece like the back of
their hands, but they really keep it fresh, and the playing
of every section stands up well to the scrutiny of the superior
So what next for Cambreling and his SWR forces? This recording
demonstrates a distinctive and passionate approach to Bruckner’s
music, both sensitive to its Romantic expression and keenly
aware of its need for architectural structuring. How about a
recording of the Fifth Symphony; that could be a real triumph.