Having dearly loved Bruckner’s music for decades, I must confess that his sixth symphony with its many quirky and seemingly unrelated motifs, strange harmonies and frequent lack of linear development has not been among my favorites. My friend Clive Goodwin (see his excellent review of the same disk) recently directed my attention to Bruckner’s use of the Phrygian scale and thus opened my ears for a new appreciation of the work.
We are now fortunate to have Daniel Barenboim’s June 2010 live recording of the Sixth at the Berlin Philharmonie with his Staatskapelle Berlin in exemplary video and audio (once again: bravo Accentus!). Needless to say, the Staatskapelle musicians are consistently superb, in solo and group passages as well as in the overwhelming ensemble in the tutti sections. Barenboim – he conducts without a score and never ceases to amaze me – is sensitive to every nuance, every mood change, and he brings out a cohesive structure in the entire symphony I found missing or obscured in other interpretations. He displays the ideal balance between gravitas and occasional bold jauntiness in the first movement, highlights the melancholic beauty of the Adagio, the festive “hunting” aura of the Scherzo, and pulls all the stops in a highly dramatic, powerful finale that will leave you speechless. It is difficult to bring off a symphony with predominantly slow movements (Maestoso – Adagio – Nicht schnell – Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell), but Barenboim, with flexible tempi and swift interplay between instrumental groups, does it irresistibly. This reading will keep you spellbound from beginning to end. It certainly has brought Bruckner’s Sixth much closer to my heart. Now I can hardly wait for the release of the remainder of this remarkable Bruckner cycle. Meanwhile: who will give us an equally excellent Third on DVD?