Day 33: Symphony No. 6 in A Major (Barenboim)

Today starts a brand new cycle in my Bruckner journey!

This morning, I am listening to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in A Major (WAB 106) interpreted by Argentine-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim (1942-), whom I saw conduct the Staatskapelle Berlin in a performance of Bruckner’s Eighth at Carnegie Hall on January 28th of this year.

NOTE: I have two Barenboim CD box sets for this leg of my Bruckner journey. The first (which I’ll call the “Blue Box”) is on the Warner Classics label. The second (which I’ll call the “Pink Box”) is on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The performances in the Blue Box were recorded in the 1990s. The performances in the Pink Box were recorded much more recently, 2012 and 2010.

So…alpha by conductor, then chronological by dates of performance.

That’s the plan.

Because today’s recording comes from the Blue Blox, Barenboim’s orchestra for this performance is the Berliner Philharmoniker. And the music label is Warner Classics, which was awarded “Label of the Year” at the 2016 Gramophone Awards in London last October.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s First in this leg of my journey, visit Day 1.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Second in this leg of my journey, visit Day 6.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Third in this leg of my journey, visit Day 11.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Fourth in this leg of my journey, visit Day 17.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Bareenboim’s (“Blue Box”) interpretation of Bruckner’s Fifth in this leg of my journey, visit Day 25.

Of Bruckner’s Sixth, its entry on Wikipedia tells us this:

Symphony No. 6 in A major (WAB 106) by Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) is a work in four movements composed between September 24, 1879 and September 3, 1881 and dedicated to his landlord, Dr. Anton van Ölzelt-Newin. Though it possesses many characteristic features of a Bruckner symphony, it differs the most from the rest of his symphonic repertory. Redlich went so far as to cite the lack of hallmarks of Bruckner’s symphonic compositional style in the Sixth Symphony for the somewhat bewildered reaction of supporters and critics alike.

According to Robert Simpson, though not commonly performed and often thought of as the ugly duckling of Bruckner’s symphonic body of work, the Sixth Symphony nonetheless makes an immediate impression of rich and individual expressiveness: “Its themes are exceptionally beautiful, its harmony has moments of both boldness and subtlety, its instrumentation is the most imaginative he [Bruckner] had yet achieved, and it possesses a mastery of classical form that might even have impressed Brahms.”

First, the stats. Then, my opinion of the recording.

Here are the objective aspects of today’s performance:

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in A Major (WAB 106), composed 1879–1881
Daniel Barenboim conducts
Barenboim used the “Leopold Nowak/Robert Haas Edition, 1935,” according to the CD sleeve
Berliner Philharmoniker plays
The symphony clocks in at 54:45
This was recorded in Berlin, Germany, in May of 1994
Barenboim was 52 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 57 when he finished composing it
This recording was released on the Warner Classics label

Bruckner wrote his symphonies in four movements. The time breakdown of this one (Symphony No. 6 in A Major), from this particular conductor (Barenboim) and this particular orchestra (Berliner Philharmoniker) is as follows:

I: Majestoso…………………………………………………………………………………………………………15:47
II: Adagio. Sehr feierlich (Very solemnly)……………………………………………………………17:04
III: Scherzo. Nicht schnell (Not fast) — Trio. Langsam (Slowly)……………………………8:26
IV: Finale. Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (With motion, but not too fast)…………13:26

Total Time: 54:45

Of the edition Barenboim chose, its entry on Wikipedia tells us this:

Revisions and editions

The Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Symphonies represent Bruckner’s period of confidence as a composer, and apart from his unfinished Ninth Symphony, they are the only symphonies in which Bruckner did not make extensive revisions. In fact, the Sixth Symphony is the only Bruckner symphony that was exempt from any revisions from the composer himself. However, Gustav Mahler made substantial changes to the score before he conducted the 1899 premiere of the symphony in its entirety, revisions unsanctioned by Bruckner as they were posthumous.

The Sixth Symphony was also first published in 1899, a task overseen by Cyrill Hynais, a former student of Bruckner. However, this edition encompassed a few minute changes from Bruckner’s original score, namely the repetition of the second half of the Trio in the third movement. The next edition was printed only in 1935, edited by Robert Haas, and is the edition most commonly performed today. In 1951 Leopold Nowak also published an edition that was an exact replication of Bruckner’s original 1881 score. The edition performed under the direction of Mahler for the premiere was never published.

Okay. Now, here are the subjective aspects:

My Rating:
Recording quality: 5
Overall musicianship: 5
CD liner notes: 5 (a heavy booklet, 1/4-inch thick with lengthy essays translated into English, French, German, and what appears to be Portuguese)
How does this make me feel: 5

Perfect.

For a DDD (all-digital recording) this is exceptional. DDD recordings used to be brittle, too crisp, not warm. They’ve come a long way, baby.

I still say the theme in the first movement is very similar to the theme song from the Oscar-winning movie Lawrence of Arabia. Listen to Movement I starting around 8:21 to 9:05. Then listen to the Lawrence of Arabia theme.

Yeah. See?

Similar.

I liked the Scherzo, too. Very lively. Intricate. Fun. Playful, even.

Bruckner wrote some of the best Scherzos I’ve ever heard in my life This is one of my favorites.

All told, t his is a very fine performance. Well recorded. Well played. Well conducted.

I can think of only one word for today’s listening experience:

“Huzzah!”

By the way, at 54:45 this is just the right amount of time to spend listening to a symphony. Less than an hour. I can hear it twice through easily before I write my comments, which I did today.

Incidentally, the phrase “just the right amount of time” is totally subjective. It’s like what students would ask me when I taught them about copywriting.

“How long should the copy be?” they’d ask, all wide-eyed and eager to learn.

“As long as it has to be,” I’d reply.

Copy for a brochure or direct-mail letter can be any length. In the olden days of David Ogilvy and Claude Hopkins, longer was the norm. People loved to read, and had time to do so. Shorter became more common as the years marched on. Yet, in both cases the amount of copy depends on what you have to say.

In this case, Bruckner had 54:45 seconds worth of something to say.

No time wasted.

No wasted notes.

Compact, tight, and powerful.

Perfect.

One of my favorite symphonies.

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