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Given composer Anton Bruckner’s deeply religious nature, it is fitting that this Symphony No. 4 also known as “The Romantic,” should be performed in Austria’s St. Florian basilica. This work heralded the beginning of Bruckner’s mature symphonic output that included five more massive symphonies. This composer is no stranger to the Cleveland Orchestra and its Austrian conductor, Franz Welser-Möst who was celebrating his 10th anniversary with this group. Three of the symphony’s four movements bear the time signature bewegt, literally meaning, “play forward with movement.” This presents the challenge to conductors who must not let the gorgeous walls of sound distract them or cause them to drag out the tempi. Fortunately, Maestro Welser-Möst understands this command and keeps his orchestra en pointe throughout the proceedings.
This concert received the loving care videography so typical of veteran director Brian Large. We get beautiful perspectives of the cathedral, panoramas of the orchestra and audience, and plenty of instrumental close-ups. Everything about the visual presentation is simply top drawer.
Arthaus Musik is fond of using DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 rather than 5.1 soundtracks. Frankly, I did not notice a lack of deep bass, but rather an imbued clarity to the orchestral details. The two-channel version is also quite lovely if not so atmospheric or detailed.
There are no additional video materials offered except for trailers of other Arthaus Musik Blu-ray discs. An accompanying booklet describes the work and provides details of the 1881 Korstvedt revision as there are no fewer than seven versions of this symphony. Background material on Welser-Möst and the Clevelanders round out the remainder.
The Definitive Word
It is interesting to compare this Blu-ray offering to the recently reviewed Barenboim and Staatskapelle Berlin performance of the 1878/1880 revision. While there are subtle differences in these two versions, what struck me the most was how Welser-Möst kept the ebb and flow of this score moving as directed in its score. The Cleveland Orchestra is a substantially better orchestra than its Berlin counterpart, particularly in this repertoire, and the intrinsic beauty of this work came across more explicitly. As one of many examples, you should listen to the tonality of the horn calls that open the third movement. Not that the Barenboim disc is a bad choice as Bruckner lovers will almost always have more than one recording of this popular work. But for all artistic and aesthetic aspects as noted previously, this Blu-ray recording goes readily to the top of my current Bruckner symphonic list. Highly recommended.
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