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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony No. 6 in A major (1881 version, ed. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs)
Oberősterreichisches Jugendsinfonieorchester/Rémy Ballot
rec. live, 19 August 2016, Bruckner Tage, St. Florian, Stiftsbasilika, St. Florian, Upper Austria.
DDD Surround sound 5.0 GRAMOLA 99127 SACD [69:08]
Anyone familiar with the three previous releases on the same label of the live recordings of René Ballot’s performances in the same venue of Bruckner's Third, Eight and Ninth symphonies will hardly be surprised to learn that the overall timing for this Sixth is the longest on record and that the recording acoustic is massively spacious and reverberant. Those two facts are of course interconnected; allowance must be made by both the conductor and engineers for the reverberation of several seconds in the Stiftsbasilika, but, as before, the stateliness of the performance lends gravitas and instrumental details emerge cleanly. Contributory to those factors are Ballot’s perceived discipleship to the Celibidache school of Brucknerian interpretation and his conviction, supported by remarks in the composer’s letters, that the symphonies are too often played too fast, compromising the monumental effect Bruckner was aiming for.
In truth, I have little to add to the approbatory response I outlined in my previous reviews of Ballot’s recordings: both the affect and effect of this performance remain remarkably similar to its predecessors; the prospective purchaser will already know if this will please. I thoroughly enjoy it, but the facts are admonitory: even that eccentric genius and master of the etiolated phrase, Celibidache, took over two minutes less with the Munich Philharmonic. Sawallisch, in a surprisingly brisk recording, which I nonetheless much admire, races through the symphony a full quarter of an hour faster than Ballot – and it is not as though Ballot is adding material such as the repeat of the second part of the Trio, a practice from the 1899 Hynais edition now never adopted.
As ever, crude timings cannot tell the whole story, but they do indicate Ballot’s interpretative stance: the listener is immediately alerted to the splendour of this performance only a minute in, when the first orchestral tutti erupts in a blaze of sound,and this impact is replicated in the thunderous outburst at 14’30”. There is just occasionally a hint of smudging in the co-ordination between the horns and strings, but a little rhythmic imprecision is surely forgivable in young musicians playing live in this cavernous acoustic. There is always a danger of the Adagio stalling when it is played so deliberately, but Bruckner’s instruction “sehr feierlich” is faithfully adhered to and the mesmeric waves of sound carry the movement aloft. One especially rewarding result of the leisureliness here is that it preserves an ambiguity of mood: is the melancholy grandeur of the Adagio a love song or a lament – or both?
The Scherzo is a great success, the steady descending string figure replicating carillons yet, as with the Adagio, permitting an ambiguity: are they joyful or somewhat ominous? Certainly, that contrasts tellingly with the gentle competition amongst the horns, woodwind and strings in the Ländler-based Trio section before the triumphant brass conclusion. The finale is remarkably etiolated at 18’44”, some five minutes slower than Klemperer’s recording, yet does not sound fragmented as the broad acoustic and depth of sound simply enhance the martial, even defiant mood and Ballot maintains a firm grip over the long phrases.
As in previous recordings, there is virtually no audience noise and the balances between orchestra sections are remarkably good for so challenging a location. I look forward to Ballot’s completion of the whole Bruckner symphonic cycle.
This review was commissioned by and reprinted here by kind permission of The Bruckner Journal.