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Philip Clark
Classic FM, May 2008

In 2007, the Berlin Philharmonic celebrated its 125th anniversary and decided to throw open the archives of its darkest era – the years between 1933 and 1945 – to director Enrique Sanchez Lansch. It remains one of the great enigmas of 20th-century history: how a country so rich in culture could fail to learn from history, with such apocalyptic political fallout. Lansch focuses on the inner workings of the Berlin Philharmonic to answer that question, looking in particular at the Jewish members of the orchestra and the relationship of conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler to the Nazi high command. The result is a masterful and provocative piece of film-making.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, April 2008

It's not often the classical music world becomes a microcosm of human behaviour. But that is what Enrique Sanchez Lansch's documentary on the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra does.

How could millions of Germans be accomplices to the atrocities of the 1930s and '40s? How could they sweep so much of this under the rug afterward? Could we, in another time and another place, allow genocide and war to happen?

The answers are painful.

It took 60 years after the end of World War II for anyone to ask how the glorious Berlin Phil could have become the official propaganda orchestra for Adolf Hitler's Nazis. Only two members of the ensemble from that time were still living when Lansch began work on his doc: 93-year-old violinist Hans Bastiaan and 84-year-old bassist Erich Hartmann. Both give matter-of-fact accounts of how Berlin Philharmonic membership outweighed political unpleasantness.

Besides playing great music, orchestra members – those who hadn't been thrown out for being Jewish – enjoyed special privileges as the flagship organization in the Nazi propaganda machine. During the war, this meant having food, shelter and being exempt from military duty.

After watching this film, many people may find it difficult to enjoy Beethoven's Ode to Joy, knowing it graced the Führer's birthday concerts, usually conducted by the legendary Wilhelm Furtwängler.

These 90 minutes (plus a bonus track of Furtwängler conducting the orchestra at a munitions factory in 1942) are a squirm-inducing testament to how most of us look out for No. 1.

Except, in this instance, it comes with a better soundtrack.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, February 2008

The Berlin Philharmonic last year celebrated its 125th anniversary with some spectacular concerts, released on DVDs reviewed in this column. It has also chosen to add to that a previously unknown chapter in its history: the years from 1933 to 1945, when it was under the thumb of Josef Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda, serving as ambassador for the National Socialist regime. Narrated by surviving musicians and their families, this film offers a chilling glimpse into the rape of art in the service of evil. It is a richly documented narrative, even if the audio quality of the wire recordings of Furtwaengler's conducting the orchestra is not very good.

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