Having recently experienced Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 with the same performers live in Lucerne (cross-reference below), it was most instructive to see and hear the Seventh Symphony as recorded in Severance Hall in 2008.
The first two movements were cut from the same cloth as the C Minor Symphony. Conductor Franz Welser-Möst remained largely detached from the inner workings of the miraculous score, observing his talented colleagues rather than leading them with conviction (emotional and—most importantly—harmonic). At the key junctures, there was a feeling of getting there rather than arriving.
Yet once the “Scherzo” lifted off, Welser-Möst’s visage and gestures were suddenly energized and, as they always do, the orchestra followed suit, delivering a performance to savour. Similarly, the “Finale” had much more flow and direction (if still bereft of horizontal bass-lines and detailed attention to the marvellous shifts of mode and key).
Veteran director William Cosel and his covey of cameras (some ten in all) did a remarkably good job in trying to make the visual images align with just over an hour of symphonic splendour. The cuts were usually in sync with the bar lines (especially fascinating were principal tuba Yasuhito Sugiyama’s fine demonstration of breath control and “pipe” adjustments on-the-fly as well as concertmaster William Preucil’s expert bow and body language being employed to keep one of the finest violin sections in the world together) but the transitions were frequently at odds with the flow.
The “visits” to the beautiful detail of the ceiling in Severance Hall (mainly in the first two movements) were a welcome relief and allowed the ear to focus more on the sound (musicians-at-work, close up tend to distract—in a live concert, audience members are free to shut their eyes or focus on a favourite player or section, which, necessarily, isn’t an option with camera-controlled points of view). However—similar to Vassily Primakov’s recent recital-DVD: cross-reference below—, the pans down to the players seemed at odds with the pulse (too quick in the “Adagio”; too slow in the third frame). No worries. After an initial view of this masterpiece, subsequent sittings can be enjoyed differently by switching off the video and focussing solely on the aural delights of The Cleveland Orchestra in all its considerable glory. JWR