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Christopher Abbot
Fanfare, November 2011

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

The beautiful interior of Severance Hall, with its Art Deco accents, makes a very pleasant backdrop indeed. In contrast to the CD, the program starts with the Adagio from the 10th Symphony. The performance, a very good one, is greatly improved in its surround-sound version, especially on Blu-ray…

…Magdalena Kožená can hold her own with the best of the competition. Christian Gerhaher is a fine baritone…Kožená…facial expressions bring character to her songs.

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 Kožená 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.

Lawrence Devoe, June 2011

The Performance

Gustav Mahler, a troubled musical genius who spanned the transition from 19th century romanticism to 20th century modernism, left 9 completed symphonies and one movement, the Adagio, from an unfinished 10th symphony. At the opposite end of his relatively limited composing career, lies the orchestration of the Des Knaben Wunderhorn poem cycle of which a dozen are included here; others were incorporated in Symphonies 2, 3 and 4. Octogenarian French conductor Pierre Boulez has a long 45 year history with the Cleveland Orchestra although the vast majority of the current musicians were obviously not there at his first Cleveland concerts. No matter, Boulez’s mastery of the Mahler oeuvre is in full ascendance here, extracting the essence of this orchestral chunk. The Wunderhorn cycle is interpreted by Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená and German baritone Christian Gerhaher. Both soloists are excellent Mahlerians and give animated interpretations of these deceptively simply children’s songs.

Video Quality

Severance Hall in Cleveland is a visually stunning venue, replete with gold inlaid-details on its backdrop. The videography gives excellent coverage of the individual musicians, beautiful details of their instruments and loving treatment of the diminutive Boulez who conducts without baton. Generally, the camera balances the orchestra, individual soloists, and conductor quite well. The split screen of the conductor and soloists was an interesting touch but added little to the presentation and is one touch that I could have lived without. I would also have been happier with far fewer gold leaf trim shots of which director William Cosel seemed quite fond.

Audio Quality

The Cleveland Orchestra is truly blessed with an acoustically superb hall. It enables solo and grouped instruments to be heard quite clearly with a natural warmth that is the concert hall experience. The vocal soloists are perfectly balanced with orchestral backdrop much as would be heard in live performance. The broad sonic spectrum is well captured and along with hall ambience is nicely presented in the surround channels of this DTS-HD-Master Audio recording. As a devotee of vocal music, I appreciate it when the sound engineers get it right with the dynamics, allowing the nuances of each singer’s voice to be conveyed to the listener.

Supplemental Materials

There is a 20-minute interview with maestro Boulez which covers his concepts of performing Mahler. It should be required listening for those coming to this music for the first time. Boulez has had decades of experience with this composer and, unlike some of his predecessors and younger colleagues, has had the wisdom to constantly rethink works that he has performed many times. An entertaining but brief salute to Boulez’s upcoming 85th birthday is included (he is now 86). There are trailers for 4 other Accentus music BDs including the 2010 Nobel Concert, two orchestral programs featuring maestro Claudio Abbado, and Daniel Barenboim’s legendary Chopin recital in Warsaw during the composer’s centennial year.

The Definitive Word


This 2010 all-Mahler program features works which may be less familiar but are nonetheless very worth hearing. The real treat here is seeing a musical genius at work, Pierre Boulez, with an orchestra that he has known and loved for nearly half a century. The success of this initial Blu-ray disc is greatly aided by a gorgeous video presentation with the few reservations stated earlier. The sound recording is superb as is a testimony to the venue and the audio engineers. Both soloists give strong accounts of their individual songs. While I have enjoyed a previous Mahler BD of Kožená performing Mahler (Ruckert Lieder and Symphony No. 4, conducted by her husband Sir Simon Rattle), this is my first encounter with Christian Gerhaher who reminds me of one of his teachers, the legendary Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Accentus music, a new and rising star company in the recording world, should be extremely proud of this stunning achievement.

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