BRUCKNER Symphony No 6 – Norrington
The CD cover shot has Sir Roger Norrington looking at the camera, hands spread wide as if to say “That’s it, folks. What more do you want?” Perhaps it was for real. At the end of the performance there’s a sense that the Stuttgart audience can’t quite believe what it’s just heard.
Bruckner’s Sixth has always been the most elusive of the composer’s mature symphonies. Treat it “as a kind of music we have never heard before” wrote an admiring Donald Tovey in 1935. But few have. Only that grand old iconoclast Otto Klemperer, and now Sir Roger, have had the courage to recognise the piece as an epic off-the-wall revel.
Not that Norrington downplays the symphony’s moments of introspection. No symphony, not even Beethoven’s revel in A, can be a total knees-up. Norrington is aware where the outer movement song-subjects and their attendant harmonic adventures are going to land us. Even more than Klemperer, he takes the main themes of these movements at quite a lick (the finale especially so, at some cost to orchestral equanimity in the lyric countersubject) though as with Klemperer the pulse of the lyric subjects remains proportionate. Where Norrington is fearless is in Bruckner’s on-the-spot shifts of tempo or key. But, then, he has always rather relished the shock of the obvious.
It is difficult to outsmart Klemperer in the Adagio since he too divides his fiddles and deploys minimal vibrato. He is also a touch quicker than Norrington and has a more keenly recorded first oboe. That said, Norrington generates real tension in the harmonically indeterminate climax before the recapitulation. And Norrington’s is the more gamesome third movement, the downbeats in the Scherzo’s plodding string ostinato cheekily accented.
So that’s it, folks. With its rustic vigour and devil-may-care insouciance, this is a performance that really does tell it as it is.