BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor

by | Sep 25, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (Robert Haas Edition)

Pierre Boulez conducting the Vienna Philharmonic
Studio: EuroArts/Distr. by Naxos
Video: 16:9 widescreen enhanced, color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo
Region Code: none
Length: 80 minutes
Rating: ****

This performance was videotaped in the magnificent surroundings – both
acoustically and visually – of the St. Florian Stifts Church in Linz,
Austria, during the l996 International Bruckner Festival. Ordinarily
such a strictly instrumental/symphonic work of this sort – without any
soloists or chorus – would be one of the last choices for a
visually-interesting 80-minute music video.  But director Brian
Large has at his disposal an impressive cathedral structure highly
decorated with art and sculpture.  He begins with shots of the
ceiling art and doesn’t even get down to the orchestra until well into
the first movement. Boulez is not exactly the world’s most exciting
conductor to watch in action, but the closeups of the various sections
of the orchestra and soloists in it are very well framed and timed
perfectly. (With recent DVDs, gone are the days of viewing a hornist
dumping his condensation on the floor in closeup while we are listening
to, say, the first violins.) Composition of the images of the players
keeps in mind the 16:9 format, unlike some older symphonic videos.

Boulez has mellowed with advancing age. As a young conductor he was
interested only in strictly contemporary music and  20th century
music of Stravinsky, Webern, Debussy and later. He even suggested that
conductors should pretty much minimize Romantic-period music and
concentrate on conducting new music. Now Boulez has broadened his view
and had delved into the pre-Rite of Spring world of past music. 
But rather than taking a liking just to Baroque and Classic period
works as beloved by many contemporary composers and conductors, he has
surprisingly made a reputation with Bruckner, Mahler and Wagner.

Boulez takes his qualities of Gallic restraint and precision to
Bruckner and comes up with a sort of hi-res version of the music. What
seems to attract him is Bruckner’s rejection of traditional proportions
and musical balances in the overall structure of his massive
symphonies. Repetition would have to be a part of this forumula;
perhaps he sees Bruckner as a prophet of minimalism. (Mozart knew
exactly how many times he could repeat something and always ended at
just the right point.  Bruckner often goes a couple more times
(and louder!) and yet somehow makes you feel that was just right too!)
Except for his Debussy I’m not a Boulez fan, but his Bruckner is
distinctive and well worth consideration.  I missed the presence
of usually-superior DTS surround sonics (as provided on more classical
videos lately) but although the sound here lacks the “air” of most of
the better CD audio versions, the presence of the orchestra and sight
of the voluminous spaces of the church somehow sells the
slightly-dulled soundtrack and results in a very enjoyable presentation.


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