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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 6 in A major (ed. Robert Haas) (1881)
London Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
rec. November 1961, Maida Vale Studios, London, broadcast 3 May 1964

According to the sleevenote for this recording, the Sixth was Horenstein’s favourite Bruckner symphony, at least judging from the number of times he performed it. The first time was in 1931; the performance here was recorded in 1961 and broadcast in 1964. It was recorded off-air by Horenstein’s family, and this issue derives from this source - the BBC having wiped their master tape. Incidentally, this is not one of the symphonies which raises problems about versions and editions: there is only one authentic version, reproduced by Robert Haas in his 1935 edition, which Horenstein uses here; this was later slightly tidied by Leopold Nowak and again by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs.

Horenstein was obviously very familiar with the work, but the LSO were not. They had not played it since 1936 and had not previously recorded any Bruckner symphony. Furthermore, this was a single live performance. Consequently, although Horenstein shows his customary grip on the proceedings, the execution is occasionally less than perfect. The violins smudge the very opening rhythmic figure and the brass have some fluffs, particularly in the first movement. The woodwind, on the other hand, cover themselves with glory, with the keening oboe in the slow movement and the woodwind passages in the mysterious trio to the scherzo being beautifully realized. Horenstein’s tempo shifts always seem easy and natural. The first three movements come off well, with the coda of the first movement – a great passage – being particularly impressive. The finale has always been seen as problematic; Horenstein takes an initial tempo slightly slower than usual and manages to hold it all together in a very satisfactory way.

The obvious comparison for this performance is Klemperer’s 1965 recording. Long considered a benchmark for this work, Klemperer’s New Philharmonia is obviously more familiar with this music than was Horenstein’s LSO – presumably, they had played it in concert before taking it into the studio, and they would have been able to correct slips. Still, listening to the Klemperer again, I notice that he does rather let the brass blare, though his skill in finding his way through the finale remains as impressive as ever.

No apologies or allowances are needed for the recording quality of the Horenstein. Andrew Rose of Pristine Classics has worked his usual magic in making it sound far better than one would expect from an off-air source. Apart from its documentary value, it is a performance one can listen to with pleasure. Of course, there have been many recordings since. I cannot claim to have kept up with them all, but, if you want a modern recording, Haitink’s 2003 live performance with the Staatskapelle Dresden on Profil seems very satisfactory to me. This is not Horenstein’s only recording of the Bruckner Sixth – there is also a 1968 one with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – but his admirers need not hesitate.

Stephen Barber

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