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A Cogent Argument

MIKE WHEELER listens to
Stephen Johnson and the BBC Philharmonic


The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and radio presenter Stephen Johnson were at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham (Nottingham, UK, 28 October 2009) to make a recording for the BBC Radio 3 series Discovering music, in which the audience is talked through the structure of a work, with live illustrations of particular details, followed by a complete performance.

On this occasion the subject was Bruckner's Symphony No 6 in A. Stephen Johnson's frames of reference ranged widely, taking in the disastrous first performance of Bruckner's Third Symphony, which followed the composition of numbers 4 and 5 and preceded that of the Sixth, the rhythmic language of Beethoven's Seventh, the influence of the old church modes on the first movement's opening theme (with a glance at Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis), and the probable influence, in turn, of the third movement's pounding opening on the start of Mahler's Sixth Symphony.

Johnson built a cogent argument for regarding the Sixth as a dark, troubled work, in which the brightness of A major is continually undermined by other elements. This came across in the performance, which conductor Petri Sakari steered clear of the wilful stop-start effect of some Bruckner performances, keeping us aware of the steady pulse in the background. The rhythmic layers of the second movement were lucidly laid out, enhancing the air of sombre concentration. The tensions set up by the dark currents at the start of the finale were well maintained, right up to the magisterial final pages. A powerful performance overall, it was imposing without undue heaviness.

The date of the radio broadcast is not known at the time of writing.

Copyright © 3 November 2009 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK






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