HOLST: The Planets, Op. 32. DEBUSSY: La Mer.
Philadelphia Orch/Eugene Ormandy, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2072268 TT: 81 min.
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SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C. SCHUMANN: Manfred Overture, Op. 115.
Vienna Philharmonic Orch (Schumann)/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orch/Leonard Bernstein, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 20782168 TT: 77 min.
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BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral."
Anna Tomowa-Sintow, soprano; Agnes Baltsa, contralto; René Kollo, tenor; José van Dam, bass; Berlin Deutsche Oper Chorus/Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2072408 TT: 70 min.
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A welcome issue is this Euroarts release of Eugene Ormandy (1899-1995) conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in performances recorded in the Academy of Music June 24-26, 1977. The virtuoso orchestra is in top form and it is a pleasure to watch Ormandy conduct. He is quietly efficient with a minimum of gesture, in contrast to the two conductors mentioned below. This is a superb performance of The Planets, and it's unfortunate the audience breaks into applause before the final note of Neptune (featuring the backstage unseen women of Philadelphia's Mendelssohn Club) has died away. David Griffiths produced this release and it was directed by Kirk Browning. The camera almost always is in the right spot. Euroarts lists two "surround sound" options neither of which is the real thing, but the sound quality is remarkably good—quite an achievement as the dry acoustics of the Academy of Music always have been a problem for recording engineers. A valuable release. It's unfortunate there isn't more music on it.

Euroarts here issues two more performances conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Schubert's Symphony No. 9 was recorded in the Deutsches Museum in Munich June 10-15, 1987. Before one of these live concerts (we aren't told how many there were) there was a bomb threat necessitating a search of the entire museum with a 45-minute delay before the concert could begin. In October of that year, Bernstein had conducted this symphony with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, a performance still available on DGG. This Munich performance offers lively tempi, and it's unfortunate something else from the concert wasn't included on this DVD. What is included is Bernstein's only recording of Schumann's Manfred Overture from concerts October 23 - November 6, 1985 in Vienna's Musikvereinsaal, a worthy addition to the Bernstein video catalog. Humphrey Burton directed both of these and, as usual in any Bernstein video, most views are of the conductor.

This video of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 was taped on New Year's Eve 1977 in Berlin's Philharmonie Hall, apparently released as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Herbert von Karajan's birth. Norman Lebrecht recently stated, "this is no cause for genuine music lovers to celebrate. Hitler's poster boy offered nothing to art while ruthlessly crushing creativity." No question whatever that Karajan put himself first and made a fortune doing it. He was musical ruler of Berlin, Vienna and Salzburg for many years, adulated by his public and recording profusely. Karajan's incredible ego increased with his celebrity. In the '80s he filmed many performances, many of which are available on Sony DVDs, including a Beethoven Ninth recorded in 1983. All of these focus almost exclusively on Karajan, who conducts most of the time with his eyes closed. This 1977 Ninth was directed by Humphrey Burton, his first collaboration with Karajan who was very involved with video elements—and naturally the focus is on the conductor. Soloists and chorus perform without score, as does Karajan who, with his eyes shut, wouldn't be able to see it anyway. This is a splendid performance, reasonably well recorded but surely not true surround sound.

R.E.B. (June 2008)

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