double play Edward Seckerson and Stephen Johnson compare notes on...; Bruckner: Symphony No 6 North German Radio Symphony Orchestra / Gunter Wand (RCA 09026 684522)

'We're not talking any kind of sensationalism here - no false rhetoric, no overtly dramatic subtext - but rather a simple "what is on the page and why". And it's very satisfying' 'If Wand decides to make an unmarked gear-change - to speed up towards the middle of the Adagio or in parts of the Finale - it is obviously the result of careful, loving thought, not impatience'
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The Independent Culture
You don't question Gunter Wand's Bruckner. And you get told no lies. It is, in a word, inevitable - sure and certain, worldly wise. Everything relates - tempi, phrasing, balance, sound. Wand neither resists nor assists the natural flow of this music; he respects its form, feels its pulse, follows its lead. Sir Thomas Beecham spoke of Bruckner's pregnancies and miscarriages. Wand always goes full-term. Those momentous releases are but a preparation for the new day that will dawn with the final coda. So Wand knows never to make too much of the incidentals, never to impose, exaggerate, over-state, over-inflate. The way is long but the path is straight and true. If you want theatrical (and by that I mean a greater concentration of physical excitement), then Daniel Barenboim's recent Teldec account is a stirring embodiment of the more "romantic" approach to Bruckner. The Sixth Symphony according to Barenboim is a medieval epic, the pounding hooves of the first subject giving way to a second that comes at you like an open embrace, arms flung wide in big roomy rubatos. To Wand, the character of that melody is more in the context of a new idea winging its way to the next. It's almost impatient to resume the quest, onwards and upwards to a coda that seems to take us through every imaginable key in search of the Grail. So we're not talking any kind of sensationalism here - no false rhetoric, no overtly dramatic subtext - but rather a simple "what is on the page and why?". And it's very satisfying.

Bruckner's organ-like texturing is beautifully, homogeneously realised by Wand's North German Radio Symphony Orchestra. The slow movement (one of Bruckner's most enduring) seems to mellow in the playing of it, that simple descending scale in the violins towards the close (Wand lets it down gently without undue emphasis) serving as a prime example of how an abiding belief in the material will always suffice. How else to approach the trio of the Scherzo with its quizzical pizzicato (the beginnings of a somewhat half-hearted folk dance) and robust hunting horns? It's taken Wand a lifetime to get this far. The music took a little longer. ES

Bruckner's Sixth is an enigma. The most compact of the fully mature symphonies, it has beauty and grandeur in plenty, moods and colours entirely its own, and an unusual intimacy (the experience of writing the String Quintet seems to have left its mark). It also moves consistently faster than any other late Bruckner symphony, with fewer of those still passages where the composer temporarily loses himself in thought - sheer joy if you're on his wavelength; torture if you aren't. No 6 ought to be one of the most popular of the symphonies, and yet it's still rarely heard, and for some mysterious reason its essence seems to elude even the most Bruckner-sensitive conductors.

As you might expect, Gunter Wand's new concert recording gets closer that most. On the one hand, he has the patience to let the music unfold at its own rate, and a feeling for Bruckner's musical architecture as something alive and sensuous; on the other, his is a humanising touch - figures that look calculated on the page become warm and supple for him. Intimacy is the key word in the achingly beautiful coda of the slow movement (how Mahler must have loved this music!), in the cellos' chant- like phrases at the heart of the Finale or the flickering elf-lights of the Scherzo. And if Wand decides to make an unmarked gear-change - to speed up towards the middle of the Adagio or in parts of the Finale - it is obviously the result of careful, loving thought, not impatience. And yet there are moments where even he seems to lose the plot. I'm not bothered by the occasional misreading (eg the momentarily weird horn harmonies at 1'34" in the Adagio) but, at crucial moments, the magic falters. Perplexing - and yet understandable enough to make me want to go back and try again. When so many recordings of this symphony fail completely, that's something, at least. SJ

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