Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Close to HeavenMarch 28 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
First, let me issue a disclaimer. I have grown up listening to the Cleveland Orchestra, beginning with the glory days of George Szell, down to just recently when I haead a performance of Dvorak's Sixth to knock your socks off. I think its a pretty good ensemble. Having said that, this recording, which I have anticipated since it was first announced, has fulfilled all my expectations. The choice of venue was an inspiration. Choosing to record in the church where Bruckner served so many years as organist and in whose crypt he is buried, was a most fortunate decision. The church itself is worth the price of the disc. What a magnificent structure, and how it contributes to Bruckner's work, which is never far from his spirituality! To listen to this masterpiece in this setting is to stand at the doorway to heaven. It is obvious that Welser-Most is in love with the music of Bruckner, and it is conveyed in his reverence for the composer, translated into a beautiful rendition of the symphony (Be sure to eliminate any outside noises from the room, because the ppp's really are.)On the other hand, the Clevelanders acquit themselves very well in the string and brass passages, which in Bruckner, are quite intoxicating. The bonus is a welcome addition, helping to explain Welser-Most's relationship to this music, while exploring a little further the glories of the St. Florian church. Highly recommended.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Conducting to the VenueAug. 18 2007
Joseph L. Ponessa
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Some conductors interact with the players in front of them, some with the score on the desk or in the head, and some with the hall behind them. When Welser-Möst conducts Bruckner, I think he falls into the last category, conducting to the hall. There is a video of Bruckner's THIRD conducted by Welser-Möst back in the early days with the LSO, in 1991, and it is a very fine, crisp, thoughtful account. You can see him thinking and listening as he conducts. 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. LATER ADDENDUM: 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.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
A feel-good story that doesn't quite deliverApril 6 2007
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I wanted to like this more than I did, as this was truly a "feel good" story that had everything going for it: a relatively young Austrian conductor who took a shillackin' from the London press (he had a decade long stint with the London Phil.), only to soon become Cleveland's fourth or fifth music director; a Japanese tuba player, Yasahito Sugiyama, who was allegedly fired from the Vienna Philharmonic, only to immediately become successor to the great Ron Bishop (fabulous tuba player!); a wonderful orchestra from the heartland of America - complete with women, Asians, and even a few African American players - invited to come play at the illustrious Brucknerfest, right in the backyard of Vienna Philharmonic country (who have few women and - now! - no members of color); that serious Austrian conductor, playing up the role of the prodigal son, by way of conducting one of Bruckner's greatest musical edifices just a few feet from where he's now entombed. All of this made for a perfect setup, if ever there was one. Unfortunately, the performance itself doesn't quite live up to the rest of the story.
Simply put, the performance is TOO reverential, and never quite catches fire as it ought to. Welser-Most looks as though he's trying to be rather controlled and economical with his gestures. But with the Cleveland Orchestra in front of him, almost the opposite is needed. Every note from every player is perfectly in place, and perfectly in tune. To make a bad metaphor, their front yard is manucured to absolute perfection. In the interview with W-M that comes with the DVD, he compliments the Cleveland Orchestra on the fact that they don't allow their brass to dominant over everything; the way that so many other American orchestras do. Unfortunately, a bit more blustery playing from the brass, particularly the horns, is just what this performance needed. That, and a bit more unhinged timpani playing here and there as well. To put this another way, W-M/Cleveland paid plenty of hommage to the Bach and Schubert influences upon Bruckner (very fine string playing!), but the Wagnerian (read: teutonic) element to his music was sadly under-represented.
Interestingly enough, another W-M Bruckner 5th recording does exist: a 1993 live performance with the London Philharmonic, recorded on tour at Vienna's Konzerthaus for EMI. While not nearly so well-manicured sounding, W-M's earlier effort has everything that this one doesn't: speed in the right places; plenty of power; blazing horns, and loud timpani. It may not be quite as reverential as this 2006 Cleveland one (I think it is), but it's far more exciting and fun to listen to. As is if to underline the odd musical priorities of W-M/Cleveland at St. Florian Cathdedral, the camera work constantly keeps shifting back to a pair of flutes. I don't know about you, but I've never thought of the Bruckner 5th as a concerto for two flutes and large orchestra.
While it might not have meant anything, audience applause was tentative at first, and tepid at best.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Close to heaven? No, this is heaven.July 3 2011
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I have given this recording many hearings and viewings before sitting down to write a review. With each viewing, the sublimity of this performance and interpretation has only grown in its stature and magnificence.
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Modern readingJuly 15 2007
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The setting is perfect: Sankt Florian provides the spaciousness that is needed in order to fill with armonics and reverberations the long pauses of the score. 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.