Bruckner: Symphony No. 6
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: LSO/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0022
This is Colin Davis’s most impressive engagement with Bruckner on disc so far. How striking that it should be with the symphony even some of the finest Bruckner conductors find problematic. In fact, trying to think of a clear five-star rival for this new version proved impossible.
There’s evidence that Bruckner was trying to make his symphonic language more accessible in the Sixth Symphony. If so, his efforts had the opposite effect, particularly in the Symphony’s strangely open-ended conclusion. But for Davis, patience is as much a key element here as it is in spacious ‘cathedrals of sound’ like the Seventh and Ninth symphonies. For all the passion, power and sensuous beauty he brings to this music, Davis also gives Bruckner time to breathe – to unfold at his own steady pace. Admittedly there are one or two passages where I wished Davis could find a little more of the lightness of step Günter Wand brought so successfully to Bruckner – in the scherzo’s eerie trio section, or the finale’s potentially dance-like second theme (it doesn’t quite dance here). But there are so many gains: I like the scherzo’s steady but determined tread (Bruckner marks it ‘Not fast’); the slow movement is very touching; and the ending, while it remains enigmatic, carries complete conviction.
Best of all, there is a sense of a coherent overview – intellectually satisfying and clearly deeply felt. In that respect this is as good as any other version currently available. The airless, somewhat congested sound of the Barbican Hall is perhaps the only big minus, though I found I adjusted to it with time. Stephen Johnson