Bruckner: Symphony No.6

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: Oehms Classics
WORKS: Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: Hamburg Philharmonic/Simone Young
CATALOGUE NO: OC 687 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Bruckner called the Sixth Symphony ‘the most cheeky’, a strange description of any of his works, though it does have a couple of fairly chirrupy themes. But then so does the Fifth, from which Bruckner is evidently attempting a new departure in the Sixth. The Fifth is a vast and daunting work, while the Sixth is about 20 minutes shorter, and eschews the rigorous formalism of its predecessor. It has the character of an experiment – some of it works and some, I think, doesn’t. Bruckner gives himself some difficult material to deal with, then often seems almost to ignore it and to write those rushing, tearing passages and fanfares so common in his symphonies. They add up to a curious mix. In this performance I found it best to hear the work as a series of episodes – not something that I always or even usually feel.

The Hamburg Philharmonic, with whom Simone Young is recording all the symphonies, has a great Bruckner tradition, and thanks to the fine recording the results are often resplendent. On the other hand, there are some recordings, most of them slower than this one, which have given me a stronger impression of unity: Otto Klemperer’s and Joseph Keilberth’s, above all Sergiu Celibidache’s on EMI, which convinces me that this symphony belongs in stature with the last three. This account doesn’t do that, though it has its own merits, and perhaps more than the others I’ve mentioned honours the ‘cheeky’ description.

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Michael Tanner