Gianandrea Noseda: Johann Rufinatscha Symphony 6

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Johann Rufinatscha - Symphony No. 6 in D Major (1865)
Conducted by Gianandrea Noseda with the BBC Philharmonic.

I. Largo - Allegro Con Fuoco - 00:00
II. Scherzo - Allegro Ma Non Troppo - 19:39
III. Largo - 34:08
IV. Allegro Moderato - 47:12

"Much the same could be said about the Sixth Symphony, which further weakens the argument that Brahms's compositional struggles had a deleterious effect on Rufinatscha. Indeed if there is one composer to whom Rufinatscha seems significantly indebted here it is Schubert. The time scale
of the symphony feels Schubertian, and there are passages -- most strikingly the central trio section of the Scherzo -- that do sound rather like Schubert: the Austrian rural Ländlercharacter, and some of the harmonic shifts, has definite Schubertian overtones. But how much of Schubert's large scale music could Rufinatscha actually have known in 1865? Performances of the notoriously challenging Great C major Symphony were still far from frequent in the 1860s. The Unfinished Symphony had its Viennese world premiere in December 1865, though that would surely have been too late for it to leave any mark on Rufinatscha's Sixth. His knowledge of the symphonic Schubert must have been based on the youthful and decidedly classical symphonies Nos 1-- 6. As for posterity, the haunting woodwind and horns exchanges at the start of the trio make one wonder if Bruckner ever saw the score (Rufinatscha's expansive approach to musical form also suggests a kinship) -- but again, when would Bruckner have had the opportunity? He certainly wasn't a member of Brahms's charmed circle."

"Schubert's name also springs to mind listening to the imposing opening tutti. For just one bar the orchestra carves out a simple unison figure on the tonic chord: so far, so classical. But almost immediately the harmonies begin to stray compellingly, as in so many of Schubert's finest symphonic works. Within just nine bars we have reached the remote key of D flat major, a semitone step down from the home key of D, in which horns and solo cello deliver a nobly expressive variation on the opening unison figure. Rufinatscha's developments of his leading motifs can be surprisingly subtle and resourceful: did Brahms remember this? From this dramatically fluid introduction a bracing Allegro con fuoco theme emerges, but for all the energy, Rufinatscha's pacing of the argument is much more leisurely than Beethoven -- or than a more recent symphonic 'god' like Mendelssohn."

"The Scherzo is in the key of E flat -- a semitone step up from D major. The melodic writing is so characteristically 'Austrian' that one can't help wondering if memories of the folk music of Rufinatscha's South Tyrolean childhood resurfaced here. The main theme is particularly infectious: a fine example of the kind of tune German speakers call an Ohrwurm (Ear-worm). Stark contrast is provided by the Largo, its sombre opening figure given a special sepulchral colouring by low clarinets, bassoons, violas and cellos."

"Here, strikingly, Rufinatscha avoids sustained lyricism. A great deal of the melodic writing is tense and short breathed: expressively charged phrases are often passed around the orchestra rather than encouraged to take flight. It is left to the finale to clear the air and establish a suitably festive mood. There are times when one has to remind oneself that this movement was written twelve years before the finale of Brahms's Second Symphony. Here, too, we find an example of Rufinatscha's unfettered attitude to musical argument. The main theme is cast in a sturdy two-in-a-bar (ONE-two TWO-two), but the contrasting second theme is triple time: a dancing ONE-two-three TWO-two-three which may put English listeners in mind of Elgar. The effect is delightfully spontaneous. Eventually the finale builds to a resolute and rousing conclusion -- which leaves one wondering yet again: what happened to Johann Rufinatscha?", Inc.