Bruckner Symphony 9/Franz Welser-Möst (DVD)

0 of 5 stars

Symphony 9 in D minor

The Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst

Recorded 31 October 2007 in the Grosser Musikvereinssaal, Vienna

Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins

Reviewed: September 2008
CD No: MEDICI ARTS 2056848
Duration: 64 minutes [concert]
18 minutes [bonus feature]



In June 2008, The Cleveland Orchestra announced that Franz Welser-Möst’s contract as Music Director had been extended to 2018, suggesting a particularly close bond between the Austrian conductor and one of the USA’s finest ensembles. Among Welser-Möst’s initiatives since assuming the role in 2002 was the creation of a biennial residency in the Musikverein in Vienna, where this performance of Bruckner’s final symphony was filmed.

Whatever the strengths of the partnership, however, this is not a particularly compelling Bruckner 9. Welser-Möst takes a long-term view of the symphonic structure that does not preclude care for detail. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the staccato notes of the first violins in bars 27-38 of the first movement so clearly articulated as they are here. So why the lack of satisfaction? Well, although Welser-Möst appears to be highly involved in the performance – he looks very drained at the end – this is not reflected in the orchestral playing, which suffers from parsimonious phrasing, a rather monochrome tonal blend and a general lack of expressiveness. Combined with introverted woodwind solos, a lack of mystery in tremolando strings, and perfunctory climaxes, it is not surprising the breadth and power of Bruckner’s music is subdued in all three movements.

The orchestra is not flattered by the recording quality, which is close-up and lacks bloom. Presumably the presence of an audience made the engineers cautious, but it’s a pity that so little of the Musikvereinssaal’s ambience was captured. The 5.1 surround option on the DVD adds little to the sound picture. Bruno Walter’s recording of 1959, nearly five decades old, is one of many recordings of the symphony that are preferable to the newcomer in terms of balance and a sense of space.

In contrast to the unflattering sound, the picture quality is excellent, despite the NTSC format. The direction by Felix Breisach is subtle and unobtrusive. The DVD features a bonus 18-minute talk by Welser-Möst, partly about the Musikvereinssaal but mainly about the symphony.

In terms of audio versions of the symphony, Barenboim with the Berlin Philharmonic (Warner), Giulini with the Vienna Philharmonic (DG) and Wand with the Munich Philharmonic (recently released on Profil) are all outstanding. Somewhat surprisingly, Bruckner 9 has benefited from more DVD releases than almost any other symphony, with at least 8 versions so far. Of these, I would direct you to Wand’s version with the NDR Symphony Orchestra (TDK), where you can watch the 89-year-old conductor lead one of the most intense performances of Bruckner 9 you are ever likely to hear.

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