Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 6 in A, WAB 106 [54:35]
Philharmonie Festiva/Gerd Schaller
rec. info not provided
Reviewed as lossless download

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 6 in A, WAB 106 [53:08]
Symphony No. 7 in E, WAB [63:14]
Royal Concertgebouw/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 7-9 March 2012 (No. 6), 23-25 December 2012 (No. 7), Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Reviewed as lossless download
RCO LIVE RCO14005 [53:08 + 63:14]

Three new Bruckner Sixth Symphony recordings in two months. I just finished covering Simone Young’s account with the Hamburg Philharmonic, which was fast and competent but not as emotionally hard-hitting as it could be (review). Now on to Gerd Schaller and the Philharmonie Festiva and Mariss Jansons with the Concertgebouw.

Surprisingly, Jansons is the lightweight. I mean this literally: his performance is the fastest and most balletic. The first movement, dispatched in under 15 minutes, is weirdly quiet and calm, the second subject emphasized at the expense of the first. The whole symphony, in fact, seems less dramatic than usual, with Jansons seeing it as a bouncy homage to the classical era. The slow movement flows nicely and is only lacking a little punch. This however is definitely not an account you should track down if you like your Bruckner to be big, monumental, and full of emphatic brass.

Gerd Schaller, meanwhile, contributes the slowest and most profound of the three interpretations. His first movement is flawlessly paced at a sort of middle-ground between, say, Young/Jansons and Celibidache. His adagio is deeply emotional, and expansively paced at 18 minutes, with surprisingly good playing from the Philharmonie Festiva. I’m not totally sure what the Philharmonie Festiva even is, but they are really excellent, and have a fuller, more richly developed Bruckner sound than Simone Young’s Hamburg orchestra. They rise to every challenge.

Of the three new recordings, only Gerd Schaller’s can be recommended without reservations. Schaller also benefits from a true Brucknerian acoustic: a good three seconds of reverb after the loud codas, but the instruments never wash each other out. Simone Young’s orchestra isn’t as good, and her interpretation a little plain; Mariss Jansons completely misfires, unless his eccentric, light reading is to your taste.

The Jansons CD does come with a bonus, in the form of the Seventh Symphony, which is excellent. “Eccentric, light” readings have a way of working in the Seventh, which after all is a far more lyrical and far less bombastic symphony than No. 6. The first two movements are unusually songlike and free-flowing. The adagio has a timpani and cymbal crash. You can however save yourself some cash by skipping Jansons and instead opting for the slightly older, slightly better Seventh by Nikolaus Harnoncourt performed with the same philosophy. By the way, the Jansons Seventh was recorded, in part, on Christmas Day.

Jansons’ Sixth is skippable, but his Seventh is good. Gerd Schaller’s Sixth is outstanding, one of the best recordings of the symphony in years. Not what you expected, is it? Me neither.

Brian Reinhart

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