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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 6 WAB 106 (1881)
Bruckner Orchestra Linz/Markus Poschner
rec. 19-21 January 2021, Rehearsal Hall, Musiktheater, Linz
The Complete Versions Edition
CAPRICCIO C8080 [55:03]

I could well understand it if many a Bruckner aficionado like me were to take issue with Norbert Trawöger’s iconoclastic statement in his note to this edition that “Over the years of Bruckner reception, his œuvre has been beset with epic breadth, much incense, and plenty of projected grand awesomeness, little or none of which actually stems from the musical text” insofar as it seems to embrace the rather predictable modern tendency to ignore the vertical dimension in art in favour of demystifying and grounding it. It may be a cliché, but for many devotees Bruckner’s music does indeed conjure up “cathedrals of sound” in which the spiritual and numinous are paramount; Bruckner was above a devout Catholic and maintained a personal relationship with his God which is amply reflected in his composition. It is wearisome for those of more traditional tastes to find themselves constantly having to defend the idea that such ideas are very much to be found in “the musical text”.

For me, more warning bells are sounded in that Markus Poschner was assistant to Sir Roger Norrington who, in my lowly estimation, has done more disservice to Bruckner than any other conductor I could name.

In the end, none of this matters if the interpretative stance adopted by the conductor results in the delivery of a performance or recording which faithfully encompasses the spirit of Bruckner’s music as the listener perceives it. The mood of Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony, however, is the hardest of all to pin down, in that ranges from triumph to despair, optimism to despondency, darkness into light. As Paul Hawkshaw observes in his informative and stimulating note, “The symphony has no program; nor did Bruckner leave us any verbal clues as to its possible character beyond the majestoso (majestically) and sehr feierlich (very solemn) at the beginning of the first and second movements respectively. “

In keeping with the implication that any unseemly ponderousness is to be avoided, Poschner’s speeds in the outer movements are on the swift side, but not excessively so if one peruses the catalogue as whole; indeed, two of my favourite recordings are marginally faster (Stein and the VPO) or very similar (Haitink/BRSO). However, the opening sounds distinctly more rushed than majestoso – the same criticism sometimes levelled at Karajan’s otherwise impeccable recording – and phrasing sound too clipped and staccato; I compared it with Stein, Schaller and Haitink to find my impression confirmed and the microphone picks up a strange intrusion of plucked strings around 57 seconds in. The vexed question of the proper relationship of the timings of the sections within the A-B-A structure does not seem to me to be solved here, as the whole movement is too driven to the degree that it sounds almost scrappy; all three aforementioned conductors find much more majesty in their accounts and at every point I find myself preferring all three of their accounts to Poschner’s. The Adagio is a little tame and again, paradoxically plods somewhat but still lacks weight; the Gesangsperiode gains so much more under Haitink’s more flexible shaping; Poschner heavy accentuation at 3:28 sounds crude in comparison with Haitink’s more varied dynamics. Haitink’s Scherzo is again lighter on its feet and less hammered than Poschner’s but simultaneously more invigorating; Poschner is very heavy-handed and the Trio lacks charm, particularly because of the lack of dynamic variation. The finale goes better, I think, as Poschner finds the right nerviness and the orchestral playing here is especially rich and striking. Despite the lyrical, reflective moments in this movement, it depends for its success mainly upon sustaining tension and a sense of cohesion and Poschner achieves that here – although the climax of the movement is more breathless than monumental.

This is by no means unsatisfactory but is not entirely untainted by the desire to strip Bruckner of exaltation in favour of mere energy.

Ralph Moore
(This review reproduced here by kind permission of The Bruckner Journal)

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