CBSO Bruckner 6 review


CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★

The sixth is the odd man out of Bruckner's mature symphonies. An enigmatic work which is seldom-played and when it is often proves to be a conducting conundrum. Two recent recordings show conductors trying unsuccessfully to force the symphony into a more familiar, or at least consistent, shape. Thomas Dausgaard tried to increase excitement by fast tempi but made it sound chivvied and rushed; Andris Nelsons, usually a fine Brucknerian, slowed the Adagio down so much it lost shape, in a vain attempt to exalt it to the level of the seventh. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla made no such mistakes, accepting the sixth's idiosyncrasies while revealing its many beauties. An interpretation-in-progress but one resolutely on the right track, eliciting playing of subtlety, trenchancy and power from the CBSO.

There's no doubt the opening movement is a puzzle. The tense morse code motif from the strings, not Bruckner's usual tremolo, and heard-from-afar horn call suggest a gradual long-sighted build up. Suddenly we have a massive, furious brass outburst which sounds like the movement's climax as if everyone had simultaneously turned over too many pages in the score. Mirga made it a dream-like post-modernist quest where the music lost its way and spent fifteen minutes trying to find itself. I think it worked. The Adagio was wonderful, it's sonata form, a slow-movement novelty in mature Bruckner, convincingly navigated. Mirga located its still centre – the desolate, muted musing between clarinet and oboe – and, like the leader of an expedition got us safely there and back. Incidental details, often glossed over, were also revealed, like a brief passage in the finale where high strings suddenly fall silent and the cellos, underpinned by quiet trombones, sing out yearningly.

Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1, in contrast, is a copper-bottomed crowd-pleaser. The Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero gave a bold big-boned performance with all the musical landmarks – like the catchy never-heard-again opening melody – right to the fore. I found it relentlessly middle-of-the-road, the flashier elements never coruscating and the quieter, subtler moments subdued. Nine years ago I reviewed, in wonderment, Daniil Trifonov and then Evgeny Kissin playing this piece at Symphony Hall. These performances will continue to stay long in the memory; Montero's is already fading.

Norman Stinchcombe

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