The Sixth is a particular favorite of mine, perhaps dating from my conversion to Bruckner in 1951 while reading Donald Francis Tovey’s two splendid essays, on the Fourth and the Sixth. As with the Fourth, the first publication of the Sixth contains a few significant tempo indications not present in the manuscript. That edition was prepared before Bruckner’s death by Cyrill Hynais, though it was not published until 1899 by which time Josef Schalk had made many adjustments, particularly to the oboe parts. The tempo indications are rather more modest in number than in the Fourth. The most important ones are those for the first, second, and third themes: Majestoso, Bedeutend langsamer, and Gemässigtes Hauptzeitmaß, etwas breit. The first word means “grandly” but a moderately quick (allegro) tempo is implied. The second theme is to be played “significantly slower”, the third at a tempo slightly slower than the beginning and “rather broadly”. Although the first two indications are present in the editions edited by Haas and Nowak, the designation indicating that the third theme is to return nearly to the opening tempo is missing. Yet this instruction is essential for the bringing to life of the form of the first movement..
We do not have many early recordings of the Sixth, but in my own library I have two scores that offer some early information. One is a copy of the Universal-Edition printing of the Hynais score of 1899, which at one time belonged to Kapellmeister Heinz Norfolk in Vienna, and at another time belonged to H. Huber, probably also in Vienna, and in it someone entered time indications every 15 seconds from the beginning of the first-movement recapitulation to the movement’s end. My friend Mark Kluge checked the published records of the Vienna Philharmonic, and found that there was a broadcast concert of the Sixth conducted by Franz Schalk in 1927. It would be fascinating if these notations were in fact relics of a Schalk performance! Certainly they are quite early, and they correspond to no recording of the Sixth that has ever been made. They conclusively indicate a sharply faster third theme. The other score is a copy of the Haas score signed on the first page of music by none other than Paul Hindemith in 1952 at Linz, when he conducted the Sixth there. On the facing page someone kept a record of the movement timings for both the performance and the rehearsal, and these timings reflect an extremely rapid reading.
Recordings that have third themes at a tempo comparable to that of the first theme include those of G.L. Jochum (1944), Henry Swoboda (1951), pseudo-Hans Swarowsky (1960), Rafael Kubelík (1971 and 1981), Wolfgang Sawallisch (1981), Christoph von Dohnányi (1991), and Daniel Barenboim (1994). The Barenboim has been extravagantly praised, but I think the Dohnányi is even better, with a distinctively faster third theme in a very bright and elegant performance. The Sawallisch has usually gotten bad reviews, based on the confused ambience and a certain rough-hewn quality to the playing; but I enjoy it for its good overall organization. Answering an internet request I made for comments, David Lampson wrote to me that “Sawallisch’s reading of the first movement is energetic—full of intensity and passion. Even with the brisker tempo, the introduction of the theme brings a dark, almost mystical feel to the music. Klemperer’s approach is entirely different. With a more relaxed tempo, the deliberate rhythmic pulse that opens the movement evokes majesty, while the treatment of the thematic material brings to mind the romantic notion of the grandeur of nature. At times pastoral, at others dynamic, Klemperer’s vision is wide open and un-mysterious.” The Klemperer recording to which he refers is the EMI from 1964, where the performance starts very slowly, continues with one of the faster second themes, and barely speeds up at all for the lumbering, heavy third theme. As for the ending of the movement, Lampson says: “Sawallisch’s is a nearly violent climax, a resolution to all the energy that has been building in the movement. Klemperer’s is noble and magnificent.” For me the Dohnányi is outstanding, equalled only by the old Henry Swoboda reading and the three glorious Kubelík performances. Kubelík conducted it in this country in Cleveland and Chicago, at least. (The Editor [Donald Vroon] has a tape of the Cleveland [later issued by the orchestra in a special commemorative set], and the Chicago Symphony has issued theirs on their own CD label. There is also the older recording on Originals with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.)
The issue here is not one of creeping slowness, but instead whether the third theme is to be fast. And certain conductors make it so, with no other indication of familiarity with the oft-derogated but still-valuable Hynais score. Some other performances that do not get much faster at the third theme still make enough of a difference there for a new world to be created. One of these is Georg Tintner’s recording with a Moravian orchestra—a performance that bodes well for the huge forthcoming Naxos series. (Tintner plans to record all symphonies in all versions! As I write this article  he is recording my forthcoming edition of the early Second from manuscript parts.)