15 Sep 2011

Bruckner: Symphony no. 9

Recorded on 31 October 2007 in the Gro├čer Musikvereinssaal, Vienna, this performance of the Cleveland Orchestra offers a compelling interpretation of the three completed movements of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony.

Eschewing the completions of the torso or attempts to include with the movements with another composition by the composer to round out the program, the performance avoids some of the overt attention to the fact that the work is unfinished and, instead, provides a reading that treats the completed portion with integrity.

An important modern interpreter of Bruckner, Welser-Most leads the score with authority and finesse. The phrasing and articulation of the phrase structure stands out for the clarity Welser-Most delivers in this performance. His sense of timing in the cadences allows the ideas flow naturally. Yet the sound does not always serve the performance sufficiently to render some of the details that are apparent visually from the gestures Welser-Most uses in this performance. Not distorted, the sound is overly even, with the softer, thinner passages in the first movement lacking the almost inaudible quality that is part of some audio recordings. Likewise, the climactic points fail to deliver the full textures that are part of the score and evident visually in Welser-Most’s conducting. It is, nonetheless, a clean performance that shows the precision of the Cleveland Orchestra, with good balances between the sections of the orchestra, particularly the idiomatically solid brass sound that never distorts the textures with the strings and woodwinds.

The first movement is nicely paced to enhance the sense mystery as the piece unfolds and underscoring the composer’s initial marking “Feierlich, misterioso.” Welser-Most offers a clear presentation of the sections of the movement, with the exposition delineated effectively. At the same time, the conductor does not give away the recapitulation prematurely, but blends the reprise of the opening section convincingly into the structure, making the architecture of the movement palpable.

Welser-Most gives a vivid reading of Scherzo that follows, with the accompaniment nicely audible, and the percussive sonorities that character the opening section appropriately for the acoustics of the hall. The antiphonal passages have the proper resonance in this recording. This is an exemplary treatment of the movement that lends itself to repeated hearings to review the varied reprise Welser-Most achieves by bringing out the details of articulations of inflection.

Yet the third (Adagio. Langsam feierlich) movement stands apart from the others for Welser-Most’s convincing interpretation. It becomes a convincing conclusion for the work, which benefits from the breadth the conductor contributes to the score. Like other slow movements of Bruckner’s symphonies, this one benefits from the details that emerge in the thoughtful execution. The sustained pitches at the end offer a sense of finality and, as an unfinished work that ends in medias res, Welser-Most’s pause before bringing down his arms seems to pay tacit homage to the composer who died while composing the work.

Visually, the clear images are welcome, especially the close-ups of the various sections of the orchestra. At times, though, the shots suggest a large ensemble on a crowded stage, an image that is at odds with the actual size of the hall that generates the full sound Welser-Most draws from the Cleveland Orchestra, as viewed at the end of the Scherzo and the conclusion of the last movement.

James L. Zychowicz