Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major (1883-1885) [66:00]
Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
rec. live, Severance Hall, Cleveland, September 2008
Bonus: Introduction by Franz Welser-Möst [14:00]
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Region 0. Blu-ray disc. Surround reviewed
ARTHAUS MUSIK 108033 [80:00]
Arthaus have issued a top class recorded account of this symphony. There are few microphones in evidence hinting at the reason it sounds so well. The fact that the Chief Audio Engineer was Michael Bishop, ex-Telarc International, suggests why. The video direction has a touch of cliché as it wanders the ceiling of Severance Hall but given the stolid expressions of the orchestra, very different from the smiles of Abbado's Lucerne band, this is perhaps understandable. Not at all understandable is the presence of bleeding chunks of Bruckner over the disc menus. Music when the music starts please Arthaus and not before. Use audience noise if you must show that the sound is there.
In some ways the 7th is Bruckner's most beautiful symphony, 'joyful' and 'noble' said Robert Simpson, full of long-breathed melodies of such quality as to make one wonder why he took so long to be recognised. Even in his own lifetime critics of the early performances expressed surprise that such a composer could remain unknown. The conductor Hermann Levi called the Seventh 'the most significant symphonic work since 1827' - the year Beethoven died. Almost uniquely in his output there are no major differences between versions save for that cymbal clash. There is no explicit mention in the notes of which edition Welser-Möst uses, unless I missed it in the screen credits, so I assume it is the usual 1954 Nowak.
Welser-Möst comes over a trifle detached and his superb orchestra seem more determined than inspired. There is a tendency for some of those beautiful string passages to stay firmly on the ground. On the positive side the orchestral balance Welser-Möst achieves is excellent, giving appropriate weight to the complex lines of Bruckner's argument. The Adagio climax, with the cymbal clash, is radiant and in the finale the wonderful coda arrives with exactly the right inevitability, provoking a single too-soon shout of approval from an otherwise silent audience.
In his interesting talk the conductor mentions recordings of the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies made in various important European halls. The orchestra website refers also to a Fourth recorded in St. Florian, Bruckner's 'home' acoustic. These forces are close to a complete set of Bruckner on video, lacking mention only of the early pair and of 1, 2 and 3. If the audio standards are maintained these will be discs to look out for. For all that I am a bit muted in my enthusiasm for the performance, this is a very fine Bruckner 7 and probably the best produced HD video we currently have.
A very good performance but lacking in ultimate impact.