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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony No 6 in A major, WAB 106 (1879-1881) [54:25]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 22-23 January 2015, Philharmonie im Gasteig, München, Germany BR KLASSIK 900190 [54:25]
Anton Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony stands out as being relatively brief among his symphonic works, and, unlike most of his others, it was not subjected to a series of well-meaning but often ill-advised revisions. Part of the reason for this change is biographical; during the years Bruckner was working on this piece, he was a respected university professor, living rent-free thanks to an admiring landlord. For once, everything was going well, and this inspired Bruckner with confidence in his own work like never before.
That confidence shines through in this symphony, which takes building blocks that Bruckner had previously used and assembles them with efficiency, while coaxing a good deal of drama out of them. Much of the symphony is constructed on the so-called “Bruckner Rhythm,” a triplet followed by two notes, which emerges immediately in the first movement. The key of A major is an unusual one for Bruckner, as he turns to the same glowing and exuberant key that Beethoven used for his dance-like Seventh Symphony.
The similarities to Beethoven’s symphony do not end with the key signature. The driving rhythms of the Majestoso first movement mimic the repetitive and galloping 6/8 momentum of Beethoven’s opening movement. Similarly, Bruckner’s second movement Adagio has much the same stately and solemn air of the earlier composer’s. Conductor Mariss Jansons takes the hint and strongly emphasizes these similarities in this attention-grabbing performance with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
The first movement offers many moments of great drama, alternating with a Tchaikovsky-like flow and sweetness for maximum impact. As always with Bruckner, there is a feeling of restlessness and constant transition. On this recording, Jansons makes the most of that, especially in a wonderfully dramatic ending. The interplay of the trumpet, trombone and clarinet is quite delightful. The exotic main theme of the movement anticipates that of Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Procession of the Sardar (1894), though that similarity is almost certainly coincidental. Other than the two middle movements, which were played by the Vienna Philharmonic in 1883, Bruckner’s symphony was not performed in full until 1899.
The second movement is labeled Adagio (Sehr feierlich) [Slowly, very solemn.] Particularly poignant is the plaintive oboe, with its sad call just off the beat. Jansons very much emphasizes the accented notes before the second section, telegraphing us that something extraordinary is about to happen. The movement is quite sumptuous and bears repeated listening.
The third movement Scherzo in ¾ time offers rollicking and complex rhythms that Jansons delivers with a brisk tempo. The one shortcoming in this recording is that a number of quickly-repeated notes in this movement blur together into one; I would have appreciated a bit more clarity there, but that may be a function of this being a live recording, where such things cannot always be controlled as well as in the studio.
The Finale is nearly as energetic as the opening, though can’t quite compare in its level of drama. The quiet middle section loses a bit of the momentum, dwelling a bit long on the pensiveness. I noted one molto ritard in the score that Jansons disregards completely, though that might be a difference between editions. Jansons is using the 1952 Novak edition, for those who keep track of the Bruckner variants. The ending feels a bit abrupt; I would have liked a bit more buildup to the final notes, but some of the blame for that must lie with Bruckner himself.
The recording quality is excellent, especially for a live performance. I did not have any issues with dynamic compression, and the sound is clean. The audience, thankfully, is extremely quiet until after the last note has died away. I quite thoroughly enjoyed this disc and it will definitely get frequent replays.