LPO with Paul Daniel

Mozart: Violin Concerto in A, K219
Bruckner: Symphony No.6

London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 November, 2000
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Christoph Eschenbach having withdrawn, it was left to Paul Daniel to nip down from ENO to share his view of one of Bruckner’s lesser-known symphonies, also in A.

My knowledge of Daniel’s conducting is confined to his leadership of twentieth-century and contemporary pieces. He has too a considerable number of operas in his locker. His conducting of ’core repertoire’ having so far eluded me, I approached this opportunity to hear him unravel one of Bruckner’s ’difficult’ symphonies ’without prejudice’.

It’s rare that I find a fully satisfying Bruckner 6 – in recorded terms, Inbal and Solti (both ’more or less’), Blomstedt and Celibidache (very much ’more’) and Chailly (first movement only) are about ’it’ (Klemperer misses out here). As I see it, it’s to do with a conductor appreciating that the Sixth is the classical work in Bruckner’s symphonic canon. This is a symphony in which transitions and tempo relationships are crucial to building each movement’s edifice; also that Bruckner’s expression, while eloquent and deeply felt, needs the tartness of austerity that comes from astutely balancing Bruckner’s instrumental lines. So, after a fleet K219 – Tetzlaff nimbly articulate, quicksilver contrasts of tone and emphasis a delight to the ear, his decorations and extra cadenzas admirably ’authentic’ – Paul Daniel, having provided an animated and attentive accompaniment in Mozart (reduced strings), delivered as fine a Bruckner 6 as I’ve heard.

With the LPO in splendid form, Daniel led a lucid and noble account of A major Bruckner, which he conducted with real feeling and alertness to its chamber scoring – how small instrumental details blend and balance to form Bruckner’s special soundworld. Having launched the symphony’s Morse-code idea at a virtually ideal tempo, Daniel saw to it that the exposition’s three subjects emerged as an entity. Daniel appreciates Bruckner’s long phrases and doesn’t chop into them – recognising Bruckner’s classical countenance Daniel let the music flow, and how expressively.

Allowing for one balance miscalculation – the blaring trumpets and trombones at the close of the first movement (Bruckner’s fff was less than ours is today), Daniel was the epitome of Brucknerian perspective in seeing the movements whole. The secret, his masterly handling of transitions. One of the most important comes with the ’funeral march’ of the Adagio. In an atmosphere pregnant with anticipation, Daniel unfurled the wondrous melody ’in tempo’ (a number of conductors introduce a disruptive lurching forward at this point) – crisp, marking-time timpani in attendance (another pertinent contribution all too elusive) – the music’s heartache fully stated in a movement played here with blissful radiance. The scherzo (convincingly quick) – vital, muscular, even a tad humorous (my ’in the head’ tempo brings something more trenchant and pesante) – proved an admirable foil to the enigmatic trio, here taken at face value. The finale, purposeful and bold, the contemplative episode all part of the scheme, was enthralling as Daniel built to the coda in a way that was not only thrilling but inevitable – ’long-term’ Bruckner, you can’t beat it.

For all I know, Paul Daniel has been conducting Bruckner cycles the length and breadth of Europe for a number of years; equally, this Sixth may have been a ’first’. Whatever his Bruckner experience, he certainly got to the heart of this particular work – he found this music’s fire, beauty and inner sanctum profoundly. A rather special performance – but then this is a rather special symphony.

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