Haitink Dazzles in Bruckner’s Sixth

Review by: David Hurwitz

Bruckner6Haitink

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Well what d’ya know? The old man’s got some piss and vinegar in him still. I’ve never quite forgiven Haitink for giving an interview in Gramophone magazine over a decade ago decrying the tendency of conductors to remake recordings of the same repertoire over and over, and then hypocritically becoming one of the very worst offenders. Perhaps the reason that this account of the Sixth is so fabulous is because it’s only his second “official” recording of the work (well, third if, as a reader kindly reminded me, you count a live Dresden version released on Profil). Anyway, the point is that it seems that he left it alone, relatively speaking, until he had something new to say.

Mind you, his earliest version, part of his very first Bruckner cycle in Amsterdam, was quite good, if perhaps a touch faceless, but here he retains all of those qualities of freshness and vitality that characterized the previous performance, while adding an extra bit of gravitas to the Adagio, and a trenchancy of rhythm everywhere else that elevates this recording to another level entirely. It’s particularly salutary to hear how Haitink zeros in on the music’s special, rambunctious character within Bruckner’s symphonic output as a whole. That means the first movement’s ostinato rhythm doesn’t just repeat: it really moves. The scherzo’s gossamer lightness floats over the bar lines as Bruckner intended, while the finale benefits from having vividly differentiated thematic material. Too often, the movement comes off as a disappointing, generalized trudge across the finish line.

Indeed, the whole performance acts as a tonic to the modern tendency to conduct Bruckner as an experiment in sluggishness: slow, slower, and as slow as humanly possible. The composer considered this work to be his “boldest” symphony, and Haitink clearly got the message. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra plays magnificently, the warmly burnished brass riding a rich cushion of strings–noble, expressive, grand but never crude. It’s the genuine Bruckner sound, while the engineering does the interpretation full justice. A great release.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Klemperer (EMI/Warner); This One


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