Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 in A

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 6 in A
PERFORMER: Houston Symphony/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7484-2
For some reason, Bruckner’s Sixth remains the least-known and least-heard of his mature symphonies. Perhaps the problem is partly that so often it doesn’t conform to Brucknerian type – from the surprisingly fast-moving opening to the strangely ambiguous ending: light and darkness still opposed, the tensions far from completely resolved. And perhaps that’s the reason why so many experienced Bruckner conductors seem unable to make a convincing job of it. I wouldn’t say I was absolutely convinced by Christoph Eschenbach’s interpretation either – I’ve a few niggles about tempo: for instance, why put the brake on at the endings of the first and last movements? (In the first, Bruckner appears to indicate a speeding-up.) But Eschenbach hits the mark more often than most – more often even than the much-praised 1964 Klemperer recording, about which I’m increasingly having doubts. The first movement is forward-moving, without being hurried – Klemperer sounds heavy and rhythmically slack in comparison. Eschenbach’s Adagio is less austere – there’s more rubato – but the momentum is steady, right through to the glorious coda. Pacing seems just right in the scherzo and finale (at least until the Symphony’s final pages), and there’s also plenty of drama, atmosphere and warm expression. The recording, made at two concerts in Houston’s Jones Hall last year, has a slightly hard edge, and there are a few intrusive coughs; but it’s wonderfully clear – details I’d never fully noticed before come forward, without drawing attention away from the leading lines. Those with doubts about this Symphony might well find Eschenbach illuminating. Stephen Johnson