The Bruckner Orchester Linz nails its colours firmly to its mast. Its history goes back further than the composer whose name it takes, only adopting Linz's favourite son in its title in 1967. In recent years it became more associated with the symphonies of Philip Glass, Dennis Russell Davies being a great advocate, but under new Chief Conductor Markus Poschner, it's time for Anton to resume centre-stage. Closing a six-concert UK tour, they played a magnificent Bruckner 8 in a sparsely-populated Symphony Hall. It's a mystery why Bruckner remains a hard sell, but the Linzer did their man proud.

The Bruckner Orchester Linz © Reinhard Winkler
The Bruckner Orchester Linz
© Reinhard Winkler

Despite the spacious platform, Poschner jammed his orchestra tightly together, flanked by antiphonal violins with six double basses lined up along the rear. And what an impressive sound they made, spearheaded by a superb brass section, lustrous and rounded rather than abrasive and ear-splitting. This was less the epic “cathedral of sound” Bruckner, built on Gothic architecture, and more a portrait of an impulsive, passionate soul, a sincere account that lived and breathed every bar.

Conducting Leopold Nowak's edition of Bruckner's 1890 revision, Poschner, with plenty of hip-swinging, gave the first movement lots of drive. Pianissimo tremolando strings whispered as horn and oboe serenaded, the latter with a distinctively Austrian, nasal tone. Trombones intoned weightily and there was stylish, silvery phrasing from principal flute Andrea Dusleag. The Scherzo ignited at a rollicking pace, double basses sawing fiercely, but there was real charm to the gentle pastoral Trio section.

The heart of the performance was the Adagio, the opening uneven pulse, throbbing on second violins and violas, reminiscent of the Tristan und Isolde love duet. Wagner tubas added nobility to the brass. Poschner sculpted swift, flowing string phrases, swelling to accompany the celestial harp flecks, prompting thoughts of Otto Böhler's silhouette of Bruckner arriving in heaven, greeted by his fellow composers, led by Liszt and Wagner. With its huge, sweeping paragraphs, this felt like an ardent love letter, Poschner steering a hugely emotional climax. This was followed by a long pause and a tender climbdown, during which flamboyant timpanist Leonhard Schmidinger nestled his ear against each drum-skin to retune in anticipation of the stormy finale. The timpanist's galloping assault was explosive, like Wotan thundering onto the stage. Poschner made coherent sense of Bruckner's stop—start writing, allowing phrases – and silences – room to breathe, the Woodbird flute providing moments of repose. Bruckner's spine-tingling coda blazed in a burst of C major sunlight to bring a majestic performance to a triumphant close.

<i>Bruckner arrives in heaven</i> © Otto Böhler
Bruckner arrives in heaven
© Otto Böhler

Unfortunately the Bruckner Orchester Linz, on this showing at least, aren't as worthy ambassadors for fellow Austrian, Mozart. Apart from hard timpani sticks, their performance of the “Haffner” Symphony was decidedly old-fashioned in style, with mannered phrasing and big, unwritten ritardandos. The performance wasn't helped by a beefy string section, barely fewer than fielded in the Bruckner symphony, a lack of unanimous attack leading to a muddy sound. Poschner kept tempi lively, especially in a bracing finale, but the Trio section of the Minuet was very slow, with exaggerated upbeats heavily telegraphed. In this era of historically-informed period performances, it was a real throwback, Mozart heavily laced with Schnapps and Schlagobers. While their Mozart may need to go on a diet, their Bruckner was as richly rewarding as any I can remember in recent years.