Sir Colin Davis conducts Bruckner 6 at Royal Academy of Music

Symphony No.6 in A

Academy Concert Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 25 March, 2011
Venue: Duke's Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London

Sir Colin Davis. Photograph: Alberto Venzago / LSOSir Colin Davis has long enjoyed a close association with the Royal Academy of Music holding the position of International Chair of Conducting and Orchestral Studies, frequently directing its orchestras. Here he returned to the Academy with a symphony with which he has some history, recording it for LSO Live in 2002 and returning to the work with that orchestra since then. At the RAM in this lunchtime concert Davis stood for only the first movement; later his stool produced a moment of heart-stopping terror, sliding off the back of the podium and leaving the orchestra unattended while Sir Colin regained his position. His left hand was deployed only occasionally to suggest details of phrasing and transition and, for the most part, this performance of Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony avoided extreme relationships of tempo.

Bruckner 6 might receive fewer performances than the symphonies that follow it, but the Sixth is one of the least revised and is free from confusion over editions; and playing for around an hour, as it did here, it avoids the longueurs that the unconverted dread. Although nominally in A, the symphony’s relationship to the major remains curiously ambiguous; there’s a hint of eastern exoticism in the modal writing of the first movement and this and the scherzo curtail their argument with suddenly triumphal conclusions.

The Academy Concert Orchestra, composed primarily of undergraduate students (as opposed to the predominantly older students of the Academy Symphony Orchestra), possesses many fine qualities, particularly the superbly balanced wind-playing and moments of gradually expanding volume. As is to be expected, the polish of a full-time professional orchestra was sometimes absent, but Bruckner himself could not have asked for a more ravishing string tone at the beginning of the Adagio, which developed a flowing grandeur foreshadowing the music of Sibelius (perhaps not surprising given Sir Colin’s pre-eminence in conducting the Finn’s music). Finally, the hollowness of the Sixth’s blazing conclusion seemed reinforced by the extraordinary silence from the capacity audience that met the symphony’s end, broken only by Sir Colin putting his hands together.

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