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Rob Cowan
Gramophone, October 2011

BRUCKNER, A.: Symphony No. 8 (Cleveland Orchestra, Welser-Most) (NTSC) 101581
MAHLER, G.: Knaben Wunderhorn (Des) / Symphony No. 10: Adagio (Kozena, Gerhaher, Boulez) (NTSC) ACC-20231
MAHLER, G.: Knaben Wunderhorn (Des) / Symphony No. 10: Adagio (Kozena, Gerhaher, Boulez) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) ACC-10231

Boulez and Welser-Möst on the podium in Cleveland

How, I wonder, would Gustav Mahler have reacted to the implied attention-deficit at the quiet start of one of his finest songs, “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen”, with its heartbreaking echoes of war and love, the orchestral introduction played to a visual accompaniment of distracted hall-scanning, as if the initial absence of a voice had induced insufferable boredom? It’s bad enough when members of the audience feel fidgety and of course I appreciate that, given the context, there are limited options (the recently refurbished Severance Hall in Cleveland is, after all, extremely handsome), but surely a single well-chosen point of focus would have been preferable.

Still, the plus-points outweigh the minuses. Magdalena Ko┼żená is an engaging performer; a sensitive one too, who tellingly alters her expressive demeanour between the close of the carefree “Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?” and the anguished start of “Das irdische Leben”. She relates well to her audience (“Lob des hohen Verstandes” draws forth a quiet chorus of titters) and, while Christian Gerhaher is rather more formal in his approach, they’re a nicely matched pair and Pierre Boulez cues a discreet accompaniment. Also, the visual interplay between soloists makes more sense in the songs than in the symphony.

As to the music itself, Boulez explains in a bonus interview the problems posed by having to negotiate a movement with only two basic tempo markings as guidance; but given the evidence of his lucidly flowing performance you’d never know that Mahler’s directions were anything less than fastidious and plentiful…Franz Welser-Möst’s Cleveland Bruckner Eighth enjoys superior production values, with next to no wandering lenses and visual images that invariably correspond to what we’re hearing, which, unusually, is Leopold Nowak’s edition of the 1887 original (earlier Cleveland recordings under Szell and Dohnányi feature the 1890/Nowak and 1887/90/Haas editions respectively)…some of the music is quite different to what we normally hear (the Scherzo’s Trio, for example) and although the overall architecture is familiar, sort of, there are countless links and bridges that aren’t.

As to the performance (which is very well recorded), no one could accuse the Clevelanders of lacking commitment: the strings in particular look and sound intensely involved (rare in Bruckner) and Welser-Möst boldly holds the whole unwieldy edifice together. Indeed, if you fancy putting aside 90 or so minutes for an expansive take on one of the greatest symphonies ever composed, then you won’t be wasting your time.

I would be fascinated to hear from any reader who learns the symphony from this version then switches to the more concise 1890 alternative. How would it seem that way round? From this end the longer version suggests necessary trimming, but that may well be because I know and love the shorter score already. Try it and let me know., July 2011

...the (++++) live recording by Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra may come as a surprise to those who know this conductor for his intellectual approach to music—which often produces well-played but rather unemotional readings. Welser-Möst turns out to have a real affinity for Bruckner: this is a carefully controlled but scarcely unemotional reading of the symphony, with top-notch orchestral playing and a welcome use of the 1887 Leopold Nowak version of the score—which runs a full hour and a half. There is elegance, refinement and considerable intensity throughout this performance, whose relatively few metronomic moments are more than compensated for by conducting that, the majority of the time, lets the music flow naturally and allows the musicians a chance to shine with truly beautiful tone. It is worth pointing out that the 1887 version of this symphony will not please all lusters: the first movement ends loudly, not softly as in later versions, and the third contains six cymbal clashes rather than the two heard elsewhere. Many critics believe the 1887 version is significantly flawed because of these matters—the first-movement triumph seeming premature and the many cymbal clashes simply vulgar. But the fact remains that this is how Bruckner originally saw the symphony, and it is a view that modern listeners rarely have the opportunity to experience (although Georg Tintner recorded the 1887 version in his Bruckner cycle for Naxos). The big question about this DVD, as always when it comes to visualizing classical music, is whether the pictures enhance the listening experience or not. There are no significant bonus elements to this video presentation—just a pre-concert talk that is fine but not especially illuminating. And certainly there is enough drama in the music itself so that director William Cosel’s changes of focus and camera angle can be intrusive. On the other hand, some may enjoy the feeling of experiencing this August 2010 recording (assembled from two tapings) almost as if it were a live concert. There is, in any case, something exhilarating in hearing Bruckner’s final finished symphony sound the way he originally wanted it to, and played with as much intensity as it receives here.

Robert Benson, June 2010

Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra seem to be in the process of filming all of Bruckner’s symphonies. Already issued on Euroarts we have Symphony No. 5 recorded in September 2006 at the Stiftsbasilika during the St. Florian Bruckner Festival, Symphony No. 9 filmed in Vienna’s Musikverein October 2007, and on Arthaus Musik we find Symphony No. 7 recorded in Severance Hall September 2008. This latest edition contains the mighty Symphony No. 8 recorded in Severance Hall in August 2010. The disk includes interviews with the conductor and producer William Cosel; apparently these were presented on-stage prior to the performance. As Bruckner Eighths on video go, this one is easily superceded by Günter Wand and the NDR Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini and the World Philharmonic Orchestra, and the remarkable 1979 Karajan version with the Vienna Philharmonic. And, of course, there are non-video performances essential for any Bruckner collection, notably the 1944 recording by Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic, as well as those by Van Beinum, Haitink and Jochum, to mention only a few. The new video is well photographed although perhaps because of lighting (or filters?) Welser-Möst’s lips appear to be red. The 5.1 sound is very clear but not particularly surround.

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