MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D, K. 504 "Prague." BRUCKNER:
Symphony No. 4 in E flat "Romantic." (Vienna Philharmonic
Orch). BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. III, Op. 72A. Symphony
No. 2 in
36 (Royal Concertgebouw Orch). Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55 "Eroica."
(Berlin Philharmonic Orch); Rafael Kubelik, cond.
"Birthday Concert for Pope Benedict XVI"
STRAUSS: Josephs Legende
Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996) is well represented on recordings including complete sets of symphonies of Dvorák, Mahler and Bruckner—as well as an acclaimed series of Mercury recordings in the early '50s during his brief tenure with the Chicago Symphony. The earliest performance in this DGG release is Beethoven's Eroica taped in Berlin's UFA Studio March 5-13, 1967. Beethoven's Leonore and Symphony No. 2 are from the Concertgebouw June 9-14, 1969, and the remainder—Mozart, Bruckner, and Bruckner rehearsal—were taped in Vienna's Musikverein January 12-14, 1971. The 54-minute Kubelik rehearsal with the VPO of Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 shows an assured, gentle conductor not without a sense of humor. A 55-minute documentary traces Kubelik's career including a number of excerpts from recording sessions and performances. The rehearsal and documentary are what one would expect, and achieve their purpose. However, there are many problems from the video standpoint. Mozart's symphony was directed by Arne Arnbom and is standard in its closeups of orchestra and conductor. However, the Amsterdam performances, directed by Ake Falck and filmed in an empty hall, are an abomination visually. Towards the end of the Leonore Overture we see a trumpet player leave the orchestra and walk up the stairs to the hall in back of the Concertgebouw, and see him very close up, playing the famous trumpet calls. For the important flute solo heard shortly afterwards, we see the solo flutist—all by himself (!)—on the stage of the Concertgebouw. Camera angles for these Beethoven performances are constantly distracting—fast scanning of lines of musicians, closeups of brass and other instruments that look as if they were filmed for 3-D, and many closeup views of Kubelik's blurred hands. Very distracting, indeed! The Eroica was filmed in a resonant empty studio with art nouveau wall panels that sometimes change color. Kubelik often is seen against a red background, reminiscent of Leopold Stokowski in Fantasia. However, this set is of value for admirers of the Czech conductor, and the Beethoven works are examples of how not to film concert performances. The 5.1 "surround sound" is artificially produced and very resonant.
The DVD of the Birthday Concert for Pope Benedict XVI is very special in many ways. Apparently the Pope chose music on the program, and while the concert is rather brief, it is of enormous interest. The gala concert was recorded April 16, 2007 in the huge Paul VI Audience Chamber at the Vatican, which seats about 7,000. The program opens with greetings by Willi Stächele, Baden-Württemberg Minister of State, and Professor Peter Voss, General Director of SWR, and ends with words of thanks and blessing by the Pope. If one wishes, the DVD can be programmed for only the music. The concert opens and closes with works by Giovanni Gabrielli for antiphonal brass featuring Stuttgart Radio Brass as well as brass of the SWRSO Audio quality on this DVD is outstandingly fine, rather puzzling when one considers the huge venue, but sound throughout is rich, wide-range and very clear, with a fine sense of space, particularly effective in the Gabrielli. Hilary Hahn gives an elegant performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3, in which she plays her own cadenzas, and the featured work is Dvorak's Symphony No. 9. This is another opportunity to watch the remarkable 26-year old Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel at work. Beginning in 2009 he will be conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel is the real thing, a master of conducting, totally without pretentious mannerisms. He has his own ideas about Dvorak's masterpiece, and the splendid orchestra follows him perfectly. It's an extraordinary performance, well photographed as well. A superb DVD, highly recommended!
An oddity in Richard Strauss's output is his only ballet, The Legend of Joseph, written in 1912 on a commission from Diaghalev for Ballet Russe. It tells the biblical story of Potiphar's wife attempting to seduce Joseph, not much of a scenario but it does give Strauss an opportunity to write lush, colorful music, scored for a huge orchestra including four harps, six horns and lots of percussion. DGG offers a film based on a production by the Vienna State Opera. Interestingly, the filming was done at Wien-Film June 13-14, 1977, the music recorded August 1-18, 1977 in the same location—one would expect both would be done at the same time. The production is colorful, the dancing excellent, particularly Judith Jamison, of Alvin Ailey fame, as Potiphar's Wife. The Vienna Philharmonic is perfectly at home in this repertory, with Heinrich Hollreiser in firm control at the helm. Photography is just fine, the sound full and satisfying, although t he 5.1 "surround sound" has been artificially, if effectively, produced. If you want to hear Strauss's opulent score in full sonic glory, try the recent spectacular Channel Classics version with Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (REVIEW).
R.E.B. (September 2007)