Glorious Musical Architecture in Glorious Architecture
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 04/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This performance of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony (in the Robert Haas 1887/1890 version, the one that most Brucknerians prefer) with Pierre Boulez conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, is famous and well-loved in its CD version on Deutsche Grammophon. (If I'm not mistaken, it was previously available on VHS on a different label.) It is based on two performances done on succeeding days in September 1996 in the St. Florian Church (Stiftskirche St. Florian) in Linz, Austria; it is here that Bruckner is buried, where he was organist and where themes of this symphony were first heard in an organ improvisation played by him in 1886. The music world was a bit shocked when Boulez was selected to lead this performance at the 1996 International Bruckner Festival because of his reputation as arch-radical composer and conductor. However, over the years Boulez had proven his abilities in late romantic literature and although he sometimes gave lean and mean performances, cleansing scores of their traditional accretions, he paid complete attention to the scores at hand and had turned in mostly excellent performances. And his choice is vindicated in this performance. It is generally considered a superb reading.
In this DVD we not only have this acclaimed performance in crystal-clear sound, we also have an artful video version by one of the best directors of classical music videos, Brian Large. Featured here are loving close-ups of the floridly colorful Baroque art and architecture of St. Florian (and panned slowly enough that one can make out tiny details) but also extraordinarily clear depictions of the musicians (and of Boulez) as they go about their business. Large, who is musically sophisticated, has selected shots that are tied to this huge symphony's score; there are not the seemingly random shots so often seen in symphonic videos. Focus is always extremely clear and crisp, no artfully out-of-focus shots here. The VPO are at the best with silken, rich strings, full-throated brass and intricately delineated winds. The important harp part is beautifully played.
One need not go into detail about the symphony itself, except to say, perhaps for those who are not terribly familiar with it, that it is one of Bruckner's most inspired efforts. Its tortured history--it was rejected for performance by Hermann Levi, the conductor whom Bruckner called his musical god-father, and had multiple revisions made by Bruckner and others--need not detain us. One can find much about this in various sources. I will only comment that this symphony is among the most complex and emotionally evocative works in all of music. As Michael Steinberg says in his book, 'The Symphony,' this work is 'among other things, a great study in long-range harmonic evasion,' the result of which is a sense of a huge journey of complex turnings and retracings that leads to an apotheosis in the grandeur of the final movement.
Sound: PCM Stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1. Running time 80 mins.
Great DVD but Boulez is not the man.
Francisco Yanez Calvino | Santiago de Compostela, GALIZA, Spain. | 02/02/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"TDK wanted to celebrate Bruckner's anniversary with a DVD recorded in the church where Bruckner spent part of his life and where he developed his conception of the sound, probably influenced by the vast and great sonority of Saint Florian monastery church, where he played the organ for so many years.
The location of Bruckner's years in Saint Florian is fairly well described in this DVD, that has a documentary about Bruckner's years in that Austrian monastery, even showing the tomb of the composer. The DVD offers an interview with Pierre Boulez too, in which he talks about the relation between space, sound and performance, in response to a question about how is influence of this church on Bruckner's music.
The documentary, like the concert is shot in a frame of 16:9, very beautiful and with a quality of sound and image really outstanding. From the technical point of view is one of the best DVDs that I know. Deutsche Grammophon has released this same concert on CD, I really don't know how good the sound is, as I have this DVD and I'll not buy the CD version, but in this case the recording is very good, with the typical echoes of a church recording, specially the gigantic Saint Florian Monastery.
Talking about the concert itself, first of all I have to say that I don't like Haas version of the Eight Symphony, the one chosen by Boulez, so much like Nowak one, the version chosen by Celibidache (EMI) or Giulini (DG), which I really prefer. Apart from this important consideration about the score edition, I really think that Boulez was not the man to conduct this event, and I suppost it was much more a marketing decision based on the fact that it's first recording of Bruckner's music by the French maestro, one of my favourites conductors but not for this repertoire. I think Carlo Maria Giulini was the man to conduct this symphony, a work he knows very well and that he recorded marvellous for DG in the `80s.
Boulez consideration of Bruckner's 8th is too much analytic and clear, like he declares on the interview. I really think Bruckner's music needs much more than clarity on structures and respect to the score, even this Haas edition; Bruckner's music claims for searching, like Mahler said, behind the notes and I really think Boulez don't do it. The orchestra is marvellous and they play with conviction, even with some mistakes typical of a live-recording, but the tempi and the way the accentuation is done is not of my taste completely, not very brucknerian in my opinion, that needs much more breath, much more open feelings and deep at the same time.
The realization and film edition of the concert is really beautiful and well done, with some moments that are breathtaking, like the end of the first movement, in which the final climax is joined together with the vision of some skulls that are in the monastery, a terrifying vision in this symphony. The camera shows Boulez lot of times conducting, as shots of the church, very, very well done.
I give four stars to this DVD because of I don't like the performing for giving 5 starse, that is Giulini or Celibidache. But from the technical point of view this DVD worth 5 stars.
Yes, even Boulez and his collaborators here get it right
C. Darrouzet | Half Moon Bay, CA United States | 02/25/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have four recordings of Bruckner's 8th; Wand (the late one), Giulini, Celibdache, and this one by Boulez. I admire them all (not as keen on the Giulini, compared to his wonderful version of the 9th with the Chicago Symphony.) Each is different enough to show this symphony--one of the greatest ever composed imho and that of many others--in different aspects, lights, tenor, tempi, mood etc. There is no one true, always better way to set and perform it. This filmed version is awesome for being both a fine performance and for excellent video and audio recording. The shots of the horns in particular are incredible. The setting is imposing, St. Florians Church. Boulez has his reputation, yes, but even as one reviewer says, who apparently does not care for his conducting, he/they/Bruckner got it right. Yes they did. Anyone who wants a visual of the orchestra performing this magnificent piece will not be dissappointed, nor will you be sacrificing anything by the interpretation. The VP orchestra performs wonderfully throughout."