BORODIN: Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor.
Symphony No. 2 in B minor. MUSSORGSKY: Introduction to Khovanshchina. MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL: Pictures
at an Exhibition. SHOSTAKOVICH:
Dance from The Golden Age.
VERDI: Messa da Requiem
Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra selected a rather odd program for their annual New Year's Eve concert in the Philharmonie in 2007. The packed house obviously enjoyed this colorful music and it surely did show off the magnificence of the BPO. In March 2008 this site mentioned the CD issue of the two Borodin works and Pictures (REVIEW). Audio on that issue was superb and it is even better on the DVD version that also includes the Khovanshchina prelude and the Shostakovich encore. The extra channels do make a difference, and what a pleasure it is to hear the Berlin Philharmonic's strings so accurately reproduced—and we can see that the BPO, unlike the days of Karajan, now has many women players.
Christoph von Dohnányi had a long association with the Vienna Philharmonic during which he made a number of fine Decca recordings with them. Among these were all of Mendelssohn's symphonies, and these are still in the catalog. At the time, late in 1977, this video was made in the Musikverein without an audience. The featured work is Mendelssohn's Scotch symphony, preceded by a suite from The Miraculous Mandarin and Strauss's Burlesque, the latter with Rudolf Buchbinder as spectacular soloist. It is an entertaining program, although audio quality is not up to standards of 1977, with "surround sound" artificially created. Video director Hans Käch focuses much of the time on a very young-looking Dohnányi, and there are the expected close ups of individual instruments.
Arturo Toscanini played an important part in Lorin Maazel's career. So impressed was the Maestro that he let the 11-year old Maazel conduct the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Decades later, Maazel feels he owes his career to Toscanini. In 2006 he founded the privately financed Symphonica Toscanini. This has about 200 young musicians, all auditioned by Maazel. The orchestra has toured to great success. Concerts were given in Italy to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Toscanini's death, including this one November 16, 2007 in Venice's Basilica of St. Marks, a magnificent, spacious site where Monteverdi and Gabrielli experimented with placing performers in different areas to achieve spatial effects. This Messa da Requiem is a splendid performance with an outstanding quartet of soloists. Although there supposedly are 200 members in the orchestra, only about 70 were used in this performance. The two pairs of extra brass players are in balconies next to the stage—a great opportunity missed for surround sound. Video is excellent. Audio buffs probably will be disappointed—the massive low percussion of Dies irae has little impact. There is a 4:30 preface to the performance that I found annoying: a quick tour of Venice, sometimes speeded-up, including Maazel walking through the streets. Who needs this?
R.E.B. (April 2009)