BRUCKNER: Symphony no. 5

Instead, it is a rare
performance from the monastery town of St. Florian, a site long associated
with Bruckner’s career. Compiled from two concerts, the recording captures a
sense of the live performance and the enthusiasm of the audience for this
fine American ensemble.

This is a fine performance of mature work by Bruckner. Perhaps known less
than Fourth, Seventh, or Eighth Symphonies, it is nonetheless worth hearing
in concert, and this DVD gives a good sense of that venue. Welser-Mˆst
demonstrates a fine command of the score. His tempos tend to be somewhat
brisk, but they contribute to the drive he has given to this performance. The
first movement is effective with this approach, with each of theme groups
clearly audible and the relationships between the various sections are
evident. If he lingers at times at cadences, it is to allow a musical thought
to finish. Elsewhere, as in the Scherzo, Welser-Mˆst approached the textures
as if it were a work by Mendelssohn. Such a deft approach helps to allow the
character of the music to emerge from the music itself, rather than a
superimposed Brucknerian gravity that some conducts might use. The Finale is
convincing, and Welser-Mˆst’s pacing is a parallel to that which he used in
the first movement. It is useful to watch Welser-Mˆst’s hands in this
movement, as he relies more on the physical gestures than the baton to give
shape to the structure.

A key to appreciating this performance may be found in a bonus track, an
interview with Welser-Mˆst in which the conductor discusses his affinities
with Bruckner’s music. He talks about Bruckner’s style and mentions the
approaches to performing the composer’s music, and in the course of doing so
points to the various styles that exist among several European orchestras. In
the course of this discussion, Welser-Mˆst mentions the relatively leaner
sound of the Cleveland Orchestra for this repertoire, an element that sets it
apart, especially when it comes to some of the more contrapuntal textures
that occur in some passages of Bruckner’s works, including the Fifth
Symphony. In taking the idea of a leaner sound further, it should not be
equated to the somewhat pejorative description of a thin sound or the result
of weaker players. Rather, the Cleveland Orchestra under Welser-Mˆst’s
leadership offers a more transparent timbre in this performance of Bruckner’s
Fifth Symphony, a quality that may be at odds with the acoustics of the
basilica of St. Florian, which has a lively resonance. At times, though,
words fail, with adjectives connected to size and mass can, at best, only
approximate the musical effect.

As to the sound itself, the range of volume is relatively wide, with the
introduction of the first movement almost inaudible compared to what follows,
especially with the almost thunderous sound of the Brass. It is a stark
contrast that may be reinforced by the acoustics of the basilica itself. As
the movement continues the amplitude seems more balanced, with the
differences less profound. That kind of lean sound that Welser-Mˆst
discussed does allow for clarity in this performance, and that element
contributes to the woodwind timbres in the first movement. The recording
seems to have been made close to the orchestra, though, since the resonance
of this Baroque church does not emerge readily in the recording. At times
some of the long shots from the rear of the basilica suggest the warm
acoustic that can result in such structures, but throughout the sound seems
like that which results from a studio.

This DVD includes some external views of the monastery and a number of
shots within the basilica itself. Renovated in recent years, the Baroque
architecture and ornamentation seems at odds with the Romantic style of the
music, but it is a place that Bruckner knew well. Bruckner would have
associated organ and choral music with St. Florian, with symphonic
performances intended for an also executed elsewhere, and so there is a bit
of a disconnection between the locus of this recording and the work
performed. Nevertheless, the acoustics are remarkably fine on the recording,
which has some of the resonance that occurs with some studio ambiance. While
St. Florian may not be a point of arrival for symphony orchestras to perform
musical works, the event reinforces the connection between St. Florian and
Bruckner, while also serving as a kind of souvenir of the Cleveland
Orchestra’s 2006 visit to Europe, an event which Welser-Mˆst mentioned in
his interview.

James Zychowicz

image_description=Anton Bruckner: Symphony no. 5
product_title=Anton Bruckner: Symphony no. 5
product_by=The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Mˆst, conductor.
product_id=Euroarts 2055918 [DVD]