Symphony No.6 in A
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 4 November 2009 in Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: December 2010
CD No: LPO – 0049
Duration: 60 minutes
Rather like Mahler’s Fourth, Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony stands apart from the broader canvases that precede and follow it, being both shorter and more classical than its companions and benefiting from a compelling rhythmic momentum and melodic grace. Unlike Mahler’s Fourth, however, Bruckner’s Sixth somehow remains one of its composer’s least-known and appreciated works, a situation not helped by the relative scarcity of persuasive recordings. Fortunately, the release of a number of recordings in recent years has started to help increase the options available to the collector.
Christoph Eschenbach’s latest recording (a previous one with the Houston Symphony was released on Koch) was taped at a concert in the Royal Festival Hall and is notable for its emphasis on the lyrical and contemplative aspects of the symphony. Eschenbach’s measured tempo for the Adagio (and tendency to slow further for diminuendos) results in a running time of over 20 minutes, one of the longest on record. The approach convinces, however, thanks to Eschenbach’s sensitive shaping of phrase and the expressive playing he draws from the orchestra. The violins are especially radiant, and the oboe solo at the start of the coda is sublime.
Elsewhere the results are less consistent. The first movement is characterful and elegant but really needs more energy underpinning its climactic moments, and the scherzo lacks something in rugged power (although the trio is wonderfully atmospheric). Eschenbach is more successful in the finale, guiding a confident path through the movement’s myriad changes of harmony, tempo and mood, and shaping the second subject with an affectionate degree of rubato. Unfortunately, he undermines the coda with an unmarked ritardando at bar 407, just as the symphony’s opening theme makes a thrilling return on the trombones. The slower tempo brings a false sense of grandeur to what should be a blazing conclusion. Horst Stein’s Vienna Philharmonic version on Decca is terrific here.
The recorded sound is detailed and well balanced, albeit slightly cloudy in louder passages, with more bass and reverberation than is normally heard in the Royal Festival Hall. With a spare 20 minutes, it’s a pity that the performance of the Overture to Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” (from the same concert) was not included. As far as the symphony is concerned, Eschenbach’s interpretation is worth hearing, but recordings by Kent Nagano (Harmonia Mundi) and Herbert Blomstedt (Querstand), as well as the aforementioned Stein, are more consistently inspired.