Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 6
C Major 732604 (Blu-Ray)
C Major 738304 (Blu-Ray)
It is hard to fault the Staatskapelle Dresden in the 4th. The playing is of the highest quality, with the solo parts in particular uniformly excellent. However, to my ear the performance, particularly in the first two movements, lacks life and excitement. The Blu Ray box quotes an unnamed reviewer describing the original performances as “tone-painting” of the highest order. This is a telling comment, capturing both the strengths and the weaknesses of the performance. The price paid for tone-painting is a loss of architectural drama – a good example being the build-up to the climax of the slow movement.
Things improve in the last two movements. The Scherzo reveals an internal sense of structure that is lacking in the performance as a whole (in, for example, the balance between the Scherzo and the embedded Trio). The Finale has a much more impressive opening, clearly helped by a brass section comfortable with the monumental, and the coda is most effective. Overall, however, this rendition of the 4th fails to convince. It is probably the least successful performance to date of this cycle.
Thielemann and the Staaskapelle more than compensate in the 6th, however. The well-shaped and dynamic opening sets the tone. The first movement is chameleon-like in its sudden swings and changes of direction, so maintaining momentum is crucial for continuity. Thielemann does a great job of setting up a tremendous coda (well described by Michael Steinberg as one of Bruckner’s most splendid). The momentum of the first movement is matched by the intensity of the slow movement, and the Scherzo offers a fine transition to a powerful Finale. The end of the symphony is met with very strong applause, not just from the audience but also from the orchestra for the conductor. It is well-deserved. This is an outstanding performance of the symphony that Bruckner himself thought his most audacious.