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Symphony 6, one time regarded as a poor sister relation, has acquired marked respect for its leaner textures, terse melodic ideas, the stealthlike dramatic persona of its opening bars creating the exact mood. Along with Symphony 2, the sheer beauty of writing in the slow movement is Bruckner at his most inspirational, and the rhythmic, expressive power of the Finale adds that sense of completeness.

The composer was especially pleased with this work, and late Czech maestro Henry Swoboda, a pupil of Vaclav Talich, thought well enough of it during a period of partial neglect to make a Westminster recording. Joseph Keilberth also championed it, and his Berlin Philharmonic LP from the 1950s for Telefunken was praised for its close adherence to Bruckner's broader majesto marking for that all-important first movement. Basically, it establishes the required contrast to the last movement's energetic, forward-moving release of tensions. Otto Klemperer's Cologne Radio performance, and subsequently his EMI commercial recording with the New Philharmonia, embraced the same tactics.

Symphony 7, recognizably the favourite of all Bruckner's symphonies, has brought him overall success. The music possesses that aura of radiance and confidence for craftsmanship on high levels of achievement. Where No 6 was tense and rather forbidding, the Seventh is all-embracing, as though shafts of beauteous light from another world give everlasting hope to mankind.

This symphony is also notable for its subtle use of arch-like themes that connect, pause, and blossom into decoration. The mysterious section well into the first movement (bar 303) where lower strings reiterate the main theme in rising tonal statements with pianissimo violins/violas and descending flute and clarinet creating hushed expectancy, is both magical and ethereal. This is just one precious moment of vision that can utterly dissolve human cynicism.

Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG, Cairo, April 1951) is unrivalled in expressive tenderness shaping his cellos with added dynamic touches over and above the score. Bruckner carefully prepares his movement's climax -- prefaced by quiet rallentandi by Furtwängler and Jochum, performed straight by van Beinum -- from floor to ceiling elevation with finality of gesture.

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Copyright © 15 July 2001 Bill Newman, Spoleto, Italy




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