Bruckner Symphony No. 4


Bruckner Symphony No. 4 (the "Romantic"). Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra at the Stiftsbasilika Monastery in St. Florian, Austria in 2012. Produced by Herbert G. Kloiber and Felix Breisach; video director was Brian Large. Released 2013, music was recorded with 48 kHz/24-bit sound sampling, and the disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: A-

When I started this blog in 2006, I thought the arrival of HD video would soon lead to many HDVDs of architectural wonders. Alas, to date there has been no HDVD devoted solely to buildings, but we have seen snippets of film of palaces and opera houses in various music titles. Now we have a Bruckner Symphony No. 4 performed in a church so cramped that getting a superior music video was not possible. The producers came up with the idea of giving us also fabulous shots of the building to compensate, and Brian Large (best in the business) was recruited to pull this off. So I'll start with two "whole-orchestra" screenshots in the  St. Florian Stiftsbasilika:

Next below we have a shot of the building from the rear of the orchestra. There's an organ on the balcony over the main entrance to the church:

Here's a better view of the organ (which is not used in the symphony performance). It is called "The Bruckner Organ," because Bruckner played it for years as organist at the church and he is buried nearby:

Below is a real whole-orchestra shot that also shows more details of the altar. You can also see 3 cameras just a foot or so from the musicians:

The next whole-orchestra shot below must have been made with a telephoto lens from near the Bruckner Organ at the other end of the nave. The strings are jammed together like riders on the Tokyo subway:

A sort-of view of the violas:

And below is a decent view of the cellos:

And finally, here are two views of the winds and horns:

The first thing I noticed about Large's video was the relatively slow pace he set. There are 343 clips in 72 minutes of music, which works out to an average clip length of 12.6 seconds. This is much more leisurely than the typical DVD which has an average clip length of about 5 seconds, and it's close to the 15 seconds or longer of clip length I associate with video made to take full advantage of HD cameras.

In the video I count 75 "supershots" of the sort that take advantage of HD technology:

50 multi-section clips
6 large-section clips
5 part-orchestra clips
14 whole-orchestra clips

These 75 supershots are 22% of the total clips. I'm pretty sure the 23 architectural shots also look vastly better in HDVD than in the DVD. If you count them as  supershots, then 40% of Large's clips are appropriate for HDVDs. Typically the videos we have graded "A" or "A+" are composed 20% to 40% of supershots.

On the other hand, the video still has some mild symptoms of DVDitis. 115 clips, 1/3 of the total, are conductor views, and there are 10 instrument-only shots. There is still a lot of panning and zooming, but to Large's credit, it's all done at a slow pace that's consistent with the long length of the average clip.

Since the architectural shots are so important in this video, I'll give you some more to enjoy:

Now to the performance and the sound recording. Welser-Möst was born in Linz, 10 miles from the Stiftsbasilika Monastery. This wasn't just another gig for the Cleveland Orchestra. Their conductor has taken them several times to his hometown where they play in the venue most closely associated with the monumental, romantic, and religious nature of Bruckner's musical world. The musicians have visited the mysterious, bone-filled catacombs under the church where Bruckner's tomb sits. All of this must have put them under formidable pressure to play one hell of Symphony 4. And the people tasked with recording the music faced and overcame daunting difficulties placing the mikes and wires and coping with the reverberation in the church.

For SQ alone this recording easily beats my CD of Bruckner 4 with Günter Wand leading the Berliner Philharmoniker (RCA Red Seal 09026 68839 2). And Geoffrey Norris praises this recording lavishly in the July 2013 Gramophone at page 54. (He even remarks in some detail on the video aspect of this record, which is almost unheard of in magazine reviews. He approves of Brian Large's work saying, "The pace of the video judiciously follows the measured pace of the music and of the performance, slowly homing in on vibrant frescoes in the aspe and on the ceiling of the abbey" and that "Large knows his score and wisely, though not fussily, focuses on particular instruments when they are prominent in the texture . . .")

To wrap up, this is a remarkably beautiful title in every way. Starting with "A+," I deduct a "+" for lack of 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. I deduct further for overemphasis on the conductor and some instrument-only shots (weak DVDitis) to an "A-."