Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 - The Cleveland Orchestra / Franz Welser-Most
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Franz Welser-Moest conducts the Cleveland Orchestra. Also included is a Welser-Moest interview.
Bruckner's many silences are gripping, and Mr. Welser-Möst is fearless in extending them to the full. -- The New York Times, Sunday, August 5th, 2007, James Oestreich
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Bruckner 5 strikes me in many ways as something akin to Beethoven 3 (despite the last movement's resemblance to the final movement of Beethoven 9, in its restatement of themes from earlier movements). I would venture that for most people new to classical music, the Eroica is not their introduction to Beethoven's symphonies. They probably come to him through the 5th or 9th. Similarly, I would venture that people new to Bruckner come to him not through this symphony, but through the 4th, the 7th (as I did, 10 years ago, after living with the 7th for 35 years), or the 8th. Yet in both works, these composers are flexing their symphonic muscles, particularly in the use of counterpoint. Bruckner is no less successful than Beethoven, despite the fact that the sound and structure of their works are universes apart. But, for me and I think many others, Bruckner 5 stands as a milestone in this great composer's body of works, no less significant than the Eroica stands in Beethoven's.
With that said, I hasten to add that I find this performance to be as about as close to perfect as imaginable. I own almost every performance of this work available on CD or DVD, because when I first encountered it, long before I came to the 8th and 9th, it was love at first hearing. I know it's absurd, but I think of Bruckner 5 as my secret--only *I* know how great it is (stupid, I know--just ask Franz Welser-Möst). But, this symphony is closest to my heart, among all of his works.
And this performance is breathtaking. My benchmark is Celibidache's performance with Munich on EMI from 1999. I have worshipped this recording since it was released, and nothing has ever come close (well, maybe Harnoncourt does)--until this. The performances are very different. Welser-Möst brings out more humor (which I think this score holds in abundance) than Celibidache, while retaining the elder maestro's grasp of the work's weight and power. What is almost unbelievable is the commitment of each and every player of the Cleveland Orchestra to every single note of this performance. I have been stunned and left speechless by the care each player gives to every note. It is incredible to see how rapt the players are in each of Welser-Möst's gestures--in so many instances, with their parts memorized, principal players do not take their eyes off of him for 2 or 3 measures at a stretch. Their profound attachment to this music, which they display time and again through their attention and devotion to this great conductor, is moving.
And well they should pay attention to him: he has a subdued yet magnetic intensity that puts him in the realm of Toscanini, Furtwängler and Karajan.
This is an extraordinary performance, in every respect. The quivering of Welser-Möst's left hand at the end says it all. The performance is astonishing, and those lucky enough to have been in Bruckner's beloved Stiftsbasilika St. Florian for this performance should count themselves as witnesses to something profound. I only hope those of us who get to hear Cleveland and Welser-Möst perform Bruckner 5, 7, 8 and 9 in 10 days in New York will be as lucky.
Several other videos exist that were shot in Sankti-Florian--a Bruckner EIGHTH conducted by Karajan in 1978 (on Polygram laserdisc) and another Bruckner EIGHTH conducted by Boulez in 1996 (currently in the DVD catalog). The texture of the first recording is murky, but the second recording has solved the miking challenges. Clearly this hall has a very long acoustic reverb, and the conductor has to keep the ensemble from racing past itself sonically. It is not so much a matter of holding the players back as getting them to listen to themselves and one another in a different way than in the concert hall.
Karajan's studio recordings of the Bruckner EIGHTH are like lightning, but his recording in the church is more stately. So this venue is not the ideal place to see a conductor and orchestra show their own special characteristics; here they must bow to the place, and it is Bruckner's own place, after all. A case could be made that Bruckner always had the reverb of Sankti-Florian in his head.
Having heard this disc on better equipment, I think there is some problem with the recording. The complete lack of hall ambience deadens the slower passages. The sound engineers must have overcompensated for the long hall reverb. The performance of the same piece by Günter Wand, also available on DVD, is technically a much better recording.
Welser Moest does not have the sense of climaxes typical of Jochum and Von Karajan or even Baremboim, but his reading is deeply moving in its fresh and transparent lyricism. Furthermore his control on the orchestra is never in doubt.
Cleveland plays beautifully: the string session provides audible warmth and depth even in the most powerful tutti.
the famous coda of the 4th movement does have that sense of redemption we would expect after the dramatic tension created by the gigantic fugue.
A great performance. The best among the young conductors of our age.