I don't live in Cleveland, so I don't know Welser-Möst as well as a devoted fan in Cleveland might. But, I've attended every one of his concerts at Carnegie Hall in the past 7 years, and have been moved and impressed, time and again, by his performances (a Shostakovich 7 and Beethoven 3 stand out in particular). And, I've been living with his Bruckner 5, 7, 8 and 9 dvd's for the past 6 months, in anticipation of his concerts here in New York, featuring those symphonies (and works of John Adams) which begin in two days. I don't even know where to begin in reviewing this performance of Bruckner 7.
I'm tempted to start with the brass section, which is simply electrifying, both in terms of power, but also in terms of subtlety and beauty. But, really, one must start with Welser-Möst. This man is a genius conductor. You may or may not care for his interpretations (I do, though his tempi are sometimes a bit on the fast side for me), but you must respect the depth and intelligence of his work. He knows this symphony inside and out, and the fact that he uses a score in this performance should not detract: he is so profoundly moved by this music, that I believe he uses the score simply as an anchor: he will not let this music, despite its power to do so, move him to the point where he is reduced to a puddle of tears and perspiration. He is desperately connected to this symphony, evidenced by the occasional camera shot of his face. One can see it. His every gesture, whether grand or miniscule, holds the performers in his grasp in a display of devotion I have only ever seen before in the performers of the Berlin Philharmonic to Karajan, or in the performers of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra to Abbado.
But, back to the brass section. When I was a kid, one of my prized LP's was a recording of the antiphonal music of Gabrieli, performed by the brass sections of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, and Cleveland Orchestra. The Cleveland brass section was great then, in the 60's, and they are great now. This symphony has a Mozart orchestra-sized wind section (2 each), but the brass is rich: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 4 Wagner tubas, and bass tuba. 15 vs. 8: brass win (but the wind playing in this performance is also sublime). You will search long and hard to find brass playing of such depth, elegance, richness and, yet, power.
I'd guess that the inspiration for the incredible brass playing (and, add to that, the incredible playing of the rest of the orchestra) lies in the power and mastery of Welser-Möst. He has a grip on this orchestra like Szell had on it, or like Solti had on Chicago or Karajan on Berlin. But his grip comes not authoritatively, but rather, at least in how it appears to me, through sensitivity. He's strong when he needs to be, but you don't really see strength, visually, in his performance. It's more a matter of connection. He's honest, and his players believe him. No emotion is contrived and nothing is done for effect; everything is felt, but it all starts with a supreme understanding of the architecture of this work. He builds this performance with a vision of the whole in his mind at all times, and the vision is epic.