Ivor Bolton's approach doesn't suit every Bruckner symphony,
but he has some valuable and rare insights to offer on the Sixth.
Previous instalments in this cycle have lacked weight and dramatic
integrity. This Sixth is clearly in the same mould, but the
benefits outweigh the losses, especially in the details he brings
out from the score, which dozens of conductors before him have
either overlooked or sacrificed for the unity of the whole.
The Mozarteumorchester Salzburg lives up its name. If it weren't
for the photograph of what is clearly a full-size orchestra
in the liner, I would have sworn that this was a chamber ensemble,
albeit a large-ish one. The strings in particular seem to be
lacking a few desks in each section. If that is an illusion,
it is a result of chamber-like playing from the strings. They
never go for big full-bow sounds, opting instead for clear and
precise textures, and creating contrast though variety of articulation
rather than extreme dynamic contrasts. The Austrian character
of the string playing is evident throughout, especially in the
earthy, rustic sounds of the slow movement and scherzo.
The woodwind and brass follow suit. There is some wonderfully
distinctive playing from the woodwind soloists, especially the
oboe, who is heavy on the vibrato, but not to a fault. The brass
playing is just excellent. Bolton never asks them to go overboard
on the climaxes, enabling them to maintain a fine tone throughout.
The ensemble within the trumpet and horn sections is ideal.
As with the strings, the range of articulations, especially
from the horn and trumpet soloists is a revelation.
The more modest dynamics from the strings allow a good number
of wind counterpoints to come through that you may never have
heard before. Bolton makes a point of faithfully reproducing
all the articulations in the score. That often means that phases
are shaped more through the variety of attack on the various
notes than through dynamics or rubato. The rubato is perhaps
a little too literal; tempo changes are given as specified in
the score, but rubato for phrasing is much more subtle.
Bolton compensates for the lack of weight in the orchestra's
sound with some expansive tempos, especially in the first two
movements. That is a risky strategy but it pays off, returning
a sense of grandeur to the music. He is not afraid to drive
the finale on when required. The last five minutes succeed primarily
because of the increase in tempo and energy he injects.
For all that, the lack of weight in the orchestral sound remains
a problem. There are a number of places were the music comes
to a halt and after the brief caesura the full string section
enters with a large, warm chord. Bolton tries to make the coming
entry more spectacular by drawing out the pause, but the thin
sound from the strings, when it comes, is usually a disappointment.
Otherwise this is an excellent recording. The focus on detail
really justifies many of Bruckner's compositional decisions.
More grandiose recordings make the work out to be more like
the monumental Eighth or Ninth. It is always going to suffer
by comparison with them, so in many ways Bolton's approach -
to treat the often delicate textures with more care and attention
- better represents its more modest aspirations.
Masterwork Index: Bruckner