Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 8
Like many orchestras, the Cleveland is issuing its own recordings, albeit somewhat belatedly as compared to the orchestras in San Francisco, London, Amsterdam, or several others. This release was recorded in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting down cultural events worldwide. The Cleveland Orchestra has a storied reputation in Schubert’s “Great” Symphony–two versions with Szell, and one with Dohnányi, the first of which remains a reference recording for the work. This newcomer too has a lot going for it.
The first movement features an introduction seamlessly married to the main Allegro, and in the coda Welser-Möst manages to let us hear the tune without resorting to the usual extensive rescoring. The slow movement is the highpoint of the performance. It has everything that makes Cleveland’s approach to music-making unique: perfect balances, chamber-music like transparency, exquisite solo playing all leading to a powerful climax, and it’s all perfectly paced. Unfortunately the performance bogs down in the scherzo, as it so often does. It simply has too many repeats to sustain its length, but all is forgiven in the buoyant finale. If I have any additional reservation it’s that the conductor’s approach is a bit too cool, and excessively focused on finesse at the expense of sheer power. There are moments, especially in the outer movements, where a bit more rhetorical emphasis really would be appropriate; but there’s no questioning the validity of the conception or its superb realization.
The coupling, a typically worthless post-Webernian exercise in squeak-bloop note spinning, was composed in the early 70s and ought never to have been revived. The title is about ten times more interesting than the actual music. It sounds like it could be by anyone, never mind Krenek, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hear it more than once. There is so much unfamiliar and neglected music that would benefit from these artists’ time and attention so much more. Still, this is valuable for the Schubert, and for most listeners that will probably be enough. The sonics are a touch on the dry side but very clean and clear, packaging and presentation are deluxe, and so is the price. In short, this is a release for hard-core collectors with cash to spare.
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