RAVEL: Alborada del gracioso. Rapsodie espagnole. Bolero. DEBUSSY: Iberia. Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun
Munich Philharmonic Orch/Sergiu Celibidache, cond.

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 1 in F, Op. 10 + rehearsal
Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orch/Leonard Bernstein, cond.
MEDICI ARTS DVD VIDEO 2072158 TT: 85 min.

BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture. Coriolan Overture. ROSSINI: William Tell Overture. WAGNER: Tannhäuser Overture. WEBER: Der Freischütz Overture. DEBUSSY: Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun. RAVEL: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2. RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 (Alexis Weissenberg, pianist).
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO 0440 073 4399 (2 disks) TT: 147 min. + 60 min. documentary

Romanian-born Sergiu Celibidache was an enigma among major conductors of our time. He insisted on extensive rehearsals which to some extent limited his engagements. Celibidache did not like to make recordings; most of his disk legacy, aside from a few early EMI recordings, is from live performances, some of which are extraordinary, others outright boring. This DVD of French music was filmed during the Cologne Music Treinnale May 13-14, 1994 at the Kölner Philharmonie two years before Celibidache's death August 14, 1996. All of these performances are utterly fascinating—a master conductor with much to say. All of these works here receive their longest recorded performances. Timings in the booklet are misleading as they also include non-music pauses and applause. Alborada clocks in at 9:03, about two minutes longer than most—quite a difference in a relatively short work. This super-langorous Faun is 13:27, well over two minutes longer than Stokowski's most leisurely. Rapsodie espagnole is 19:40, Iberia almost 30:00, and Boléro is 18:00, 2 minutes longer than Ravel's recording. Although all of these are long in playing time, they never sound slow. The conductor's attention to detail and balance is extraordinary. What a pleasure it is to watch Celibidache conducting this music, particularly Boléro where, towards the climax, he throws some remarkable cues at the expert orchestra and gets a vigorous response. Video quality is excellent as is the stereo sound. A remarkable release for those intrigued by the art of conducting.

Unitel Classica's Medici Arts issue of Leonard Bernstein rehearsing and performing Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 is one of the most valuable additions to the conductor's considerable video legacy. These rehearsal excerpts (well over 40 minutes) were taped during the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in July 1988, the performance from a concert at the Holstein-Halle later that month. Bernstein had first conducted this symphony early in his career with the New York City Symphony, recorded it later with the New York Philharmonic, and had just made a recording of it with the Chicago Symphony a month before this rehearsal/performance. His comments are astute, informative and sometimes humorous—fascinating to watch, and the performance is superb. Recommended!

The Karajan 2-DVD set features films of the conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic recorded mostly in the 1970's including some performances previously issued on DVD, all made under the artistic supervision of Karajan. Of course all are performed very well by the BPO; the Tannhäuser Overture is exceptional. However, Alexis Weissenberg is a rather uncomfortable soloist in the Rachmaninoff concerto, and he is on his own, as Karajan conducts everything here with his eyes closed. DVD II includes an hour-long film, "Impressions on Herbert von Karajan," by Vojtech Jasny, a glowing tribute to Karajan as a master of music and as a human being, stating the world is a better place because of him and what he did for music. Karajan's love of nature is expressed by views of him walking in the forest, and in a poorly photographed interlude in a car he states he feels it is of utmost importance to always be prepared emotionally for the music he is about to conduct and concentrate on nothing but that.Video quality often is veiled. We see Karajan with his Porsche, flying his private jet, boating, swimming, and there is a suggestion that he also did hang-gliding—at least there is a brief snippet of someone doing this and, like most of the movie, there is no clue as to who, what, when or where. We see a beautiful woman introduced as Karajan's wife; she is a model, Eliette Mouret, whom he married in 1958 and was the mother of his two daughters, and we learn that she enjoys painting landscapes. Not mentioned is the fact that she is his third wife—the first was Elmy Holgerloef (1938-1942), the second, Anna Maria Sauest (1942-1958). Nor is there mention of his joining the Nazi party in 1935, a move that greatly enhanced his career in Germany. We see excerpts from three of his filmed operas including the disastrous Rheingold (see REVIEW), and at one of the rehearsal sequences (for Mahler Fifth) we see a young Seiji Ozawa doting on every movement and word. For rehearsals, Karajan does have his eyes open. Surely this is a very idealized set of "impressions"

R.E.B. (May 2008)