Ricardo Muti • Wiener Philharmoniker
The Death of a Symphony
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On paper, Riccardo Muti might be suited to Bruckner, with his tendencies to regal, broad and mellifluous textures. On record, that has not borne out: Muti doesn’t touch Bruckner often; his best—the Fourth with the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI-Warner)—is better than its reputation, but not by much. The cliché—which is to say: truth mixed with laziness—is that Muti simply isn’t a Brucknerian.
And of all the Bruckner symphonies, the one that one might expect to suit him least is the Sixth, the one Bruckner described as his sauciest. The result—to the extent I was able to hear it properly in the acoustically challenged, somewhat deadened space of the Paterre Logen in the Grosses Festspielhaus on Sunday, August 17th at a treacherous 11am—sadly supported this prejudice. Dull, dull, dull.
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.6,
B.Haitink / Dresden StaKap.
The standstill funereal Adagio—calming, beautiful—was effectively a barbiturate. The performance wasn’t helped by morning-woes in the playing of the Viennese—with a surprisingly brittle sound and occasional flubs (the kind that one would overlook or not even hear, in an enthralling performance), and a homogenous soup only intermittently lightened as, for example, by the lovely and lively pizzicatos in the Scherzo. Massive and threatening climaxes in the finale came, then ever so brief, far too brief moments of lightness—and still over all hung a feeling of either not quite getting it or not caring.
Fifty-five-some minutes earlier, the Sixth Symphony had been my favorite of Bruckner’s. Now it had become a chore. Bruckner was preceded by Schubert’s Fourth which truly became “Tragic”, and not in the good sense. Most of the audience raved and hollered and loved it. Such is the power of name-recognition. Music-loving, sensitive ears (mine were hardly the only ones to hear it that way) despair in such moments.