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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 6 in A major (1879-81) (Nowak, 1952)
Symphony No. 7 in E major (1881-83, 1885) (Nowak, 1954)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 2012. DDD
RCO LIVE RCO14005 [53:11 + 63:16]

I have not really followed Mariss Jansons' career but I am well aware of how highly esteemed he is by respected fellow reviewers. Many of his recordings with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra issued on their RCO Live label have been greeted with acclaim. The same is true of his work with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on the BR Klassik label. I have even read his name mentioned in connection with the appointment of the next chief of the Berlin Philharmonic although his age at 71 and his health following a very serious heart attack in 1996 militates against that possibility. Indeed, he is due to step down this year from his Concertgebouw post.

My relative lack of acquaintance with his Bruckner prompted me to sample this latest release of two live recordings and I am impressed. I was first relieved to discover that here there is none of the understatement I hear too often in Bernard Haitink's recordings with "his" orchestra. These are brisk, energised accounts with real crispness of attack and sustained momentum.

The Sixth is closest is conception and execution to my favourite version by Wolfgang Sawallisch on Orfeo. Like him, Jansons takes the first and third movements relatively fast; Schaller is more mysterious and Klemperer grander in that opening but both they and Jansons all convey the "Majestoso" instruction in their different ways. The Adagio is certainly grand and very elegantly played, if just a little soft-edged. The Scherzo is very sharply accented and exploits a wide dynamic range. The Finale is a triumph, especially given the relative shapelessness of a movement not invulnerable to justified criticism for its lack of coherence. The balance between brass and strings is excellent, particularly so for a live performance and Jansons generates real thrills in the last few minutes.

The Seventh is by and large given a far more propulsive account than my hitherto preferred recording by Kurt Sanderling. I am open to alternative readings and it must be admitted that Sanderling's approach is the more eccentric, with daringly distended tempi in both opening movements, especially the Adagio. This road is taken to slightly reduced extremes by Karajan and Skrowaczewski. Jansons' performance is more moderately paced and although some might lament a certain lack of personality in the beautiful playing, I revel in the voluptuous sonorities and noble conclusion of the "Allegro moderato". The Adagio is the least successful movement in that it courts blandness and I want greater attack to, and more luxurious shaping of, those generous phrases. That said, compensation is afforded by the "dark, humming sound", as the notes aptly put it, of the Wagner tubas and the special, hushed serenity of the closing bars. The Scherzo is played with welcome bite and the brass snarl superbly in the emphatic reiteration of the leaping martial theme of the Finale, in which Jansons brings out all the lyricism of the score.

These are the two symphonies by Bruckner around which there is least musicological debate regarding the validity of the emendations and the authenticity of the edition employed. Only the question of whether to permit the cymbals and triangle at the climax of the Adagio of the Seventh remains and they are here triumphantly included.

The live sound in the Concertgebouw is absolutely first rate in terms of balance, dynamics and lack of obtrusive noise. This bargain twofer represents the essence of Jansons' Bruckner.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Brian Reinhart


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