Jaap van Zweden, the recipient of Musical America's Conductor of the Year
in 2012, is one of the most successful conductors of today. Currently the
Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (since 2008), he is also Honorary
Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Radio Chamber
(having been Chief Conductor from 2005 until 2011).
This new disc from Challenge Classics is the latest instalment in
van Zweden's Bruckner Symphony cycle, which he began recording for Exton.
The first complete performance of No. 6 took place three years after
the composer's death, when Gustav Mahler conducted a heavily cut version in
Vienna. The music made little headway in its early years, with the result
that it does not suffer from the complications of different performing
editions which dog so many of Bruckner's works. When he composed it, around
1879-1881, he had suffered many disappointments as a composer, but enjoyed
few triumphs. Yet posterity has confirmed that the music he created remained
masterly, even visionary.
The recorded catalogue boasts more good performances of the Symphony
now than used to be the case a few years ago. The arrival of this excellent
new version with van Zweden and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic makes
that even more true. It assumes a worthy position alongside other fine
performances, conducted for example by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (Oehms
OC215), Daniel Barenboim (Warner Elatus 2564 60802) and Günter Wand
The recording from Hilversum sounds splendid, nicely balanced with a
secure and sensitive dynamic range. The climaxes make a wonderfully sonorous
and powerful impression. These things are particularly important in this
piece, since Bruckner shows so many deft orchestral touches, not least in
the nocturnal scherzo, which is full of subtleties of rhythm and texture.
The basic rhythm of the opening movement can be difficult to
articulate, but here it is clear in outline and beautifully judged in terms
of pace and dynamic shading. The description in the score is
, and van Zweden achieves an appropriate sense of majesty as
the first subject unfolds from fragments to full climax. The flowing
(song period) moves naturally and fluently out of
this, in the process extending the expressive range. The closing phase is
expertly delivered too, with the dynamics accurately observed in order to
make maximum effect, with the Netherlands brass players on top form.
This symphony has one of the great slow movements. The security of
the string playing delivers abundant richness of tone thanks to the work of
the recording engineers, and again the subtle dynamic shadings play a full
part. For example, the third theme, a hushed funeral march, makes a telling
impression, though might it have been more so with an even more daring
pianissimo? Compare this with Wand, for example.
With its palpable changes of gear, the finale can pose problems for
but van Zweden paces and shapes it brilliantly. When the main theme of the
(the first theme) returns in order to set the seal on the whole conception,
effect is compelling, since sonic satisfaction is combined with the deep
logic of large-scale symphonic argument.
Masterwork Index: Bruckner