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My Classical Notes, June 2012

Following the Adagio from the unfinished Tenth Symphony, Mr. Boulez presented Twelve Songs from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” with soloists Magdalena Kožená and Christian Gerhaher, both much-sought-after opera and concert singers on the world’s leading stages.

On [the bonus] DVD, we get a wonderful performance of the Adagio from the last symphony of Gustav Mahler…

The Symphony #10 as performed by the Cleveland Orchestra shows us some amazing string sonorities.

The second work, the Mahler “Wunderhorn” songs, seem to have been picked as an early juxtaposition to Mahler’s last work. The songs are beautifully done, with the two singers acting out the parts in each song. © 2012 My Classical Notes Read complete review

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.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, August 2011

This video is taken from the same concerts as found on the recent DGG recording that marks the completion of the Boulez Mahler cycle, so I won’t say anything about the performance and direct you to that review. But there are a couple of things that need to be reiterated and mentioned: this performance of the Adagio from the 10th Symphony is an exceptional one and makes one wish all the more that Boulez would relinquish his stubbornness (shared, to be fair, by many conductors) about it and record the whole thing—who cares which version; and secondly, the advantage this disc has over the DGG is that we get to hear the concert in HD surround sound, and that might be the main reason to acquire this. It sounds, in a word, fantastic, the Clevelanders putting in a performance that might just finally prove they are the best orchestra in the United States, and maybe the world. Enough said.

As for the video, finally a classical Blu-ray that makes the bump to 1080p, and it too looks phenomenal. This might not matter so much in any other venue, but the newly-restored Severance Hall is shown to us in exceptional clarity and detail, and it proves one completely gorgeous visual experience. The orchestra shots are pertinent and non-obtrusive, always enhancing what you are hearing, which it not always the case in concert videos. Boulez is no acrobat of course, and maintains a clear and concise “Reiner”-like beat, his cool-ish persona coming across easily, but working very well in this music.

I will be returning to this concert a lot, and I am sure you will too. Definitely a case where the video ups the ante over the audio version—with 1080p def and DTS lossless surround res. The short bonus interview is very interesting, not mandatory.

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