Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
WORKS: Symphony No. 7 in E
PERFORMER: The Cleveland Orchestra/ Franz Welser-Möst (Cleveland, 2008)
CATALOGUE NO: 101 481 (NTSC system; PCM Stereo; 16:9 picture format)

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This is a wonderful performance of Bruckner’s most popular symphony, delivered in what appears to be  a building with ideal acoustics. In the introduction, conductor Franz Welser-Möst compares Severance Hall, Cleveland to the Musikverein in Vienna for warmth, and that comes across powerfully on this DVD.

I will almost certainly want to see as well as listen to this performance again, partly because the building itself is so handsome, in its glamorous but not vulgar Art Deco way, but also because the sight of this music being played by a great ensemble does add to its impact, as it also does in the magnificent but very different performance under Abbado given in Lucerne in 2005. 

In Cleveland, the camera-work is restrained, not restless as it so often is, and the players are evidently listening to one another, and watching Welser-Möst closely. His conducting of the first movement is predominantly lyrical, until the stunningly grand final minutes.

With the sublime slow movement, Bruckner’s elegy for his beloved master Wagner whose death is indicated to harrowing effect in the coda, the emphasis is on celebration rather than grief. Its climax, where Welser-Möst includes the controversial cymbal clash, is as ecstatic and elevating as any rendition I’ve heard.

Yet here it is not, as it too often is, the absolute climax: surging brass continue with their paeans to the Bayreuth Master for what seems a foretaste of eternity, before they reluctantly yield to the grief of the movement’s closing minutes.

Is there a way to make the last two movements seem any more than a required completion of the work? Not that I know of. Here we get a dancing, supple scherzo, the least menacing of Bruckner’s late compositions of this kind; and then a rapidly delivered, almost rollicking finale.

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The balance among the movements is right, not trying to compensate for Bruckner’s somewhat flawed conception. This would be as good a way as any to introduce yourself to Bruckner’s universe, and if you are already a denizen of it you will still find rich rewards here. Michael Tanner