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Recordings

Anton Bruckner: Symphony no. 5
28 Aug 2007

BRUCKNER: Symphony no. 5

Recorded live at the Stiftsbasilika, St. Florian (Austrian) on 12 and 13 September 2006, this DVD offers a special performance of the famous Cleveland Orchestra outside its home at Severance Hall.

Anton Bruckner: Symphony no. 5

The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst, conductor.

Euroarts 2055918 [DVD]

$22.99  Click to buy

Instead, it is a rare performance from the monastery town of St. Florian, a site long associated with Bruckner's career. Compiled from two concerts, the recording captures a sense of the live performance and the enthusiasm of the audience for this fine American ensemble.

This is a fine performance of mature work by Bruckner. Perhaps known less than Fourth, Seventh, or Eighth Symphonies, it is nonetheless worth hearing in concert, and this DVD gives a good sense of that venue. Welser-Möst demonstrates a fine command of the score. His tempos tend to be somewhat brisk, but they contribute to the drive he has given to this performance. The first movement is effective with this approach, with each of theme groups clearly audible and the relationships between the various sections are evident. If he lingers at times at cadences, it is to allow a musical thought to finish. Elsewhere, as in the Scherzo, Welser-Möst approached the textures as if it were a work by Mendelssohn. Such a deft approach helps to allow the character of the music to emerge from the music itself, rather than a superimposed Brucknerian gravity that some conducts might use. The Finale is convincing, and Welser-Möst's pacing is a parallel to that which he used in the first movement. It is useful to watch Welser-Möst's hands in this movement, as he relies more on the physical gestures than the baton to give shape to the structure.

A key to appreciating this performance may be found in a bonus track, an interview with Welser-Möst in which the conductor discusses his affinities with Bruckner's music. He talks about Bruckner's style and mentions the approaches to performing the composer's music, and in the course of doing so points to the various styles that exist among several European orchestras. In the course of this discussion, Welser-Möst mentions the relatively leaner sound of the Cleveland Orchestra for this repertoire, an element that sets it apart, especially when it comes to some of the more contrapuntal textures that occur in some passages of Bruckner's works, including the Fifth Symphony. In taking the idea of a leaner sound further, it should not be equated to the somewhat pejorative description of a thin sound or the result of weaker players. Rather, the Cleveland Orchestra under Welser-Möst's leadership offers a more transparent timbre in this performance of Bruckner's Fifth Symphony, a quality that may be at odds with the acoustics of the basilica of St. Florian, which has a lively resonance. At times, though, words fail, with adjectives connected to size and mass can, at best, only approximate the musical effect.

As to the sound itself, the range of volume is relatively wide, with the introduction of the first movement almost inaudible compared to what follows, especially with the almost thunderous sound of the Brass. It is a stark contrast that may be reinforced by the acoustics of the basilica itself. As the movement continues the amplitude seems more balanced, with the differences less profound. That kind of lean sound that Welser-Möst discussed does allow for clarity in this performance, and that element contributes to the woodwind timbres in the first movement. The recording seems to have been made close to the orchestra, though, since the resonance of this Baroque church does not emerge readily in the recording. At times some of the long shots from the rear of the basilica suggest the warm acoustic that can result in such structures, but throughout the sound seems like that which results from a studio.

This DVD includes some external views of the monastery and a number of shots within the basilica itself. Renovated in recent years, the Baroque architecture and ornamentation seems at odds with the Romantic style of the music, but it is a place that Bruckner knew well. Bruckner would have associated organ and choral music with St. Florian, with symphonic performances intended for an also executed elsewhere, and so there is a bit of a disconnection between the locus of this recording and the work performed. Nevertheless, the acoustics are remarkably fine on the recording, which has some of the resonance that occurs with some studio ambiance. While St. Florian may not be a point of arrival for symphony orchestras to perform musical works, the event reinforces the connection between St. Florian and Bruckner, while also serving as a kind of souvenir of the Cleveland Orchestra's 2006 visit to Europe, an event which Welser-Möst mentioned in his interview.

James Zychowicz

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