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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 6 in A Major (1881, Urtext Edition by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs) [56.01]
London Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Simon Rattle
rec. live, 13 & 20 January 2019, Barbican, London
LSO LIVE LSO0842 SACD [56.01]

There is much to commend about this recording for any Brucknerian. It is a fine performance, detailed, wonderfully clear, attentive to textual clarity, and superbly recorded (even though the acoustic of the Barbican can be tricky). For all these – and other - considerable merits, I suspect many will not make it a first choice, but, like me, be grateful to have heard it.

That Simon Rattle is among the finest of contemporary conductors is surely beyond doubt, and, as any great conductor does, he brings unique insights to any score – nothing is routine, and one is aware that every phrase is keenly considered. Bruckner makes special demands, ones unique to him, and there were moments in this symphony where I thought not all was perfectly realised. It has become something of a cliché to describe Bruckner’s symphonies as ‘cathedrals in sound’, and the phrase is not always accurate to describe some of his music. More helpful, I think is to see his symphonies as a gradual unfolding – in his own good time – of carefully crafted ideas. Some symphonies need to be driven forward, but Bruckner’s need to happen. Nor is it a matter of pacing – tempos do not need to be funereal, but they need to feel natural. In a recent interview (Gramophone, December 2019, pp.27-28), Andris Nelsons said: ‘… Bruckner may not indicate a tempo change, or many tempo changes …. [s]o you must find your own, like building a house or something even larger. There has to be a pulse which goes all the way through a piece, but Brahms and Bruckner assumed that musicians and conductors would breathe, and breathe with the music … You can’t lose sight of the human biological clock within the structure of a piece.’

For the most part, this implied discipline is maintained by Rattle, but there are moments when an acceleration feels out of place, as for example at 4.01, and even more at 8.03, in the first movement, and his very occasional tendency to clip the end of a phrase can distract. But, set against that, there is a sense of involvement and a passion to bring out the thrust of the work. I perhaps was wrong to listen to Klemperer’s 1964 recording after my first two hearings of this. For all its inferior sound there is an integrity in every note and phrase which never wavers: the new recording nearly manages the same; and, in parts, certainly does.

This recording is the first of the Urtext Edition by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs. Changes are minor – details of articulation and texture here and there. The original score was not so mucked-about by well-meaning friends as others, and there are no great shocks here.

Special credit must go to the engineers, John Stokes and Neil Hutchinson of Classic Sound Ltd, for such splendid recording – the finest I have heard from this label. To capture such detail, without compromising depth, deserves kudos. The London Symphony are captured in fine form.

Michael Wilkinson
Previous review: Ralph Moore

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