Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 (CD review)

Also, Gluck: Overture to Iphigenie en Aulide; Humperdinck: Overture to Hansel und Gretel. Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia and Philharmonia Orchestras. EMI 7243 5 62622 2.

Of Bruckner's last six, most-important symphonies, the Sixth is among his least performed and least recorded. I suppose there are reasons for that, most prominent of which is its not sounding much like the rest of the stuff the man wrote. The work is not really as awe-inspiring or as structurally coherent as Bruckner's other famous symphonies, and it is to Otto Klemperer's credit that he was able to make as much out of it as he did. This 1964 recording is one of the best we'll probably ever get.

The first movement has always reminded me of the score to some epic movie. Maybe twentieth-century film composers looked to the nineteenth-century Bruckner for ideas. It wouldn't be the first time. Klemperer takes it in a broad, grand sweep. The second-movement Adagio is far more placid than the first, but it hasn't quite the ethereal, otherworldly inspiration that marks some of Bruckner's best slow movements. Here, Klemperer is fairly direct and not a little quick paced. The Scherzo is actually the first point in the symphony that the composer seems himself, the movement being a restless contrast of grandiose reflections and serene respites and, interestingly, a possible inspiration for the later Scherzos of Mahler. The Finale barely hangs together in many other conductors' hands, but Klemperer seems to make it all of a piece. Indeed, Klemperer so loved this symphony he practically made it his own, championing it long before most of Bruckner's music had come back into favor.

A booklet note tells us that Klemperer's longtime producer, Walter Legge, would never let him record the Sixth because he didn't think audiences were ready for it. When Legge disbanded the old Philharmonia Orchestra and the ensemble quickly reformed without him, Klemperer got his way and sans Legge made the Sixth a priority. I have to admit that even though I can't remember enough of the Sixth to hum a note, I have always admired, nay, loved, Klemperer's way with it. With his usual granitelike style, he seems to make it all hang together and work better than most anyone.

Along with the Sixth come the overture to Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel and Wagner's arrangement of Gluck's Overture to Iphigenie en Aulide. Here, Klemperer is on slightly less-sure ground, yet the performances come over with more than adequate passion and glow.

EMI (now Warner Classics) recorded the Bruckner in 1964 at Kingsway Hall, London with producer Peter Andry and balance engineer Robert Gooch. The sound they obtained is possibly no less accountable for the recording's success than Klemperer's conducting. Remastered in 2003 using EMI's Abbey Road Technology and a part of the "Great Recordings of the Century" series, the Sixth Symphony sounds smoother and more natural than ever, appearing for all the world as good as or better than most new classical releases. However, EMI recorded the two accompanying pieces, the overtures to Gluck's Iphigenie en Aulide and Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel, about four years earlier in 1960, and they sound leaner and, consequently, brighter. They haven't quite the warmth and realism the Bruckner does, but Klemperer well characterizes them all the same.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa