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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 6 in A major, WAB106
London Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
rec. 21 November 1961, BBC Maida Vale Studio, London
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC574 [56:29]

Here’s another valuable issue of a Jascha Horenstein performance from Pristine Audio. The label has already issued a 1928 Bruckner Seventh in sound that is remarkable for its age (review). In addition, they have brought us his 1950s recordings of the Eighth and Ninth symphonies, though I’ve not head that set (PASC429).

As so often, we and Pristine are indebted to the conductor’s cousin, Mischa Horenstein for making a recording available from his own collection. In this case, his involvement was particularly essential because, after broadcasting this 1961 performance just once – having waited nearly three years to do so! – it seems that the BBC erased their master tape. So, what we have here is Mischa Horenstein’s recording, presumably off-air, of that solitary broadcast on 3 May 1964. We learn from his booklet note, that when the LSO played the Sixth for Jascha Horenstein it was the first time they’d played it since 1936 and, furthermore, this 1961 reading was the first time the orchestra had recorded any music by Bruckner. That shows, I think, how much ground Bruckner’s music has had to make up in the last six decades.

Horenstein himself had first conducted this symphony in 1931 and over the course of his career there was only one Bruckner symphony – the Third – which he programmed more often than the Sixth. The depth of his understanding of what can be a tricky piece to bring off is readily apparent in this present performance.

I should say that the first time I played this disc I made the mistake of setting the volume control too low. As a result, initially the recording seemed a bit dull, especially in the bass. It wasn’t until later, when I’d raised the volume by three of four notches, that I got optimum results. That said, at the revised volume setting, the tuttis are sometimes just a little bit fierce and the treble is quite bright. However, given that the recording is nearly 60 years old, the sound quality is pretty good and Andrew Rose’s transfer is very successful.

The performance, too, is very successful. Despite their lack of familiarity with the score, the LSO generally plays well, though there are some fallible moments, such as a nasty little trumpet fluff in the first movement, which, inevitably, comes at rather an exposed moment (7:57). I like Horenstein’s purposeful pacing of the Majestoso first movement. The music isn’t rushed off its feet but the performance is taut and has just the right degree of urgency. The interpretation is thoroughly convincing.

If anything, the second movement – Adagio. Sehr feierlich – is even better. Horenstein’s tempo selection seems to me to be ideal and as the movement unfolds his command of the line is readily apparent. The long approaches to climaxes are well handled and throughout it seems to me that Horenstein has a firm grip on the structure. The result is an interpretation of no little stature and the LSO plays eloquently for him. There’s plenty of energy in the Scherzo while the trio is well managed. Structural control is again in evidence in the finale. Horenstein negotiates the various transitions very successfully and establishes an understanding relationship between the movement’s different episodes. The tuttis are projected strongly.

This, then, is a very good performance of Bruckner’s Sixth and it’s a valuable addition to the Horenstein discography. I wonder if there are any more of this fine conductor’s Bruckner performances out there which might one day see the light on CD.

John Quinn

Previous review: Stephen Barber



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