BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 6 in A Major – Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/ Kent Nagano – Harmonia Mundi HMC 901901 56:40 ****:
One of the lesser-performed Bruckner symphonies, the Sixth had only a few adherents for the better part of the 20th Century: Jochum, Andrae, and Keilberth. We have a partial performance by Wilhelm Furtwaengler, who clearly favored the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh and Eighth with much greater frequency. Connoisseurs may add their own acolytes to the short list, but recorded versions of the A Major remain relatively scarce, so mentioning a rare William Steinberg or Max Rudolf inscription will not change the tally much. Among all the Bruckner symphonies, the Sixth suffers no revisions and textural alterations, either because the composer enjoyed a unique confidence in the score, or he died before his plague of second-guesses could compel adjustments.
Kent Nagano recorded the A Major in June, 2005 in the Philharmonie Berlin. The performance exudes energy and thoughtful meditation, as well as intelligent balances among the competing musical periods and sudden shifts in orchestral texture. While not in surround sound, this Harmonia Mundi release is in big sound; and both the thunder of the martial sequences and the deep, even solemn passion of the funereal Adagio assert themselves with heroic grandeur. The work itself vacillates between surly marches and anguished chorales, and by the end of the symphony, the resolution of this tension may remain in doubt. The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (nee RIAS Symphony Berlin) is Ferenc Fricsay’s old orchestra, re-christened since 1993 under the leadership of Riccardo Chailly. The orchestra meets the various challenges of this piece, such as the harsh brass declamations and the demands for subtle dimuendi in the strings – along with all sorts of two-versus-three agogics – with finesse and stylistic Brucknerian heraldry. The Adagio can stand alone as a kind of grand showpiece for audiophile reproduction. Impressive on all counts.