Bruckner's Sixth provides challenge for ASO, audience

Concert: The orchestra has chosen the composer's `cheekiest' symphony for its first recent performance of one of his lush, sonorous works.

January 27, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There are some composers you can set your watch by, such is the rhythmic exactitude required to bring their music to life.

But with others, time is rendered meaningless by over-arching melodic lines, thrusting harmonic development and tremendous washes of sound that all but suspend nature's regular rhythms.

This weekend at Maryland Hall, the Annapolis Symphony will dabble in both categories.

For clarity and precision, there is Mozart's elegantly nuanced 23rd Piano Concerto in A major which will be performed by pianist Dickran Atamian with ASO conductor Leslie B. Dunner on the podium.

More than any other composer, Mozart demonstrates that consciousness of time need not mean roteness or lack of feeling, for few works convey the sheer radiance of this wonderful work.

This is the concerto British music critic Neville Cardus was talking about when he wrote, "If any of us were to die and then wake hearing it, we should know at once that we had got to the right place."

But in the massive sonorities found in the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, consciousness of time all but stops.

"Bruckner was a great organist," explains Dunner, "and his symphonies are a natural outgrowth of the compositional style favored by 19th-century organists."

These, Dunner says, were musicians who crafted layer upon layer of sound, and were not limited by the concept of time in motion. "With Bruckner," he says, "it is sound for sound's sake."

This weekend's performances of Bruckner's Sixth Symphony -- his "cheekiest" symphony, he called it -- mark the first foray into the Brucknerian realm that anyone connected with the ASO can remember.

Maestro Dunner is excited to be placing his ASO forces, especially his strings and brass, at the service of the composer.

"This is music that almost forces you to be unhurried in your listening," he says.

No fan of minimalism, the compositional style that breaks music down into short repetitive patterns, the conductor sees Bruckner as an antidote to the short attention spans of the modern age.

"This is music one should sit down and experience when one feels unrushed," he says. "You can forget your day and your troubles and listen to the waves of sound flow. It is very, very exciting."

American audiences have not embraced Bruckner's works with open arms, because of his music's uncompromising length and breadth. While the symphonies of Bruckner's ardent supporter, Gustav Mahler, are even longer, they are bathed in a high-strung emotionalism that resonates deeply with contemporary listeners.

Bruckner is different.

A man of profound religious faith, his long lines and massive sonorities bespeak grandeur, solemnity and affirmation in a trusting, decidedly non-neurotic manner far removed from the jagged edges of Mahler. And when the golden tones of brass ascend as they do at the conclusion of the opening movement of the Sixth Symphony, there is no doubt that we're in the presence of a vision than can ennoble and inspire us if we take the time to listen.

Ticket information: 410-269- 1132.

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