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Giv Cornfield
February 2007

DVD 1: HAYDN: Symphony #49 in G 'Surprise' / MOZART: Flute Concerto #2 in D, K.314 / BERLIOZ: Symphony Fantastique, Op.14

I'd like to state at the outset, flat-out, that this first disc is so outstanding as to be worth the price of the entire set. To begin with, I just love Mariss Jansons' conducting! He is so committed, infectiously expressive, and obviously erudite. His tempi for Haydn and Mozart are just right, and the French-Swiss flutist Emmanuel Pahud, who at age 22 became principal flute of the BPO, brought to mind the late Jean-Pierre Rampal, down to the little balletic steps he takes while moved by the music (even though he is a student of another great master, Aurele Nicolet.)

So far, so good. But the main event of this concert has to be the Berlioz. I must have heard this halucinogenic masterpiece a hundred times over the years. For a long while, I had a solid favourite - the 1950s RCA Victor recording with Pierre Monteux and the San Francsico Symphony. There were others nearly as good, some definitely lacking, but this one is - for me - the best ever! For starters, let's consider the venue of this concert - the Hagia Eirene church in Istanbul, a vast Byzantine edifice with simply stupendous acoustics. Conductor Mariss Jansons must have been inspired by this setting, and managed to convey his heightened state of mind to his musicians. There are so many oustanding moments in this performance one could dwell upon, but the apex of the work, in the 5th movement 'Dies Irae' - the tolling of the bell which never fails to startle, is sounded on real church bells and is devastatingly effective! As I said earlier in the review, for me at least, this is the non plus ultra 'Fantastique!'.

Bonuses include a 'Portrait of Istanbul' and 'Behind the scenes'


DVD 2: NEW YEAR'S EVE CONCERT 2001 - "Invitation to the Dance" with Daniel Barenboim, Pianist and Conductor / Works by BACH, MOZART, VERDI, DVORAK, TCHAIKOVSKY, J. STRAUSS, JR./ KODALY, BRAHMS

This is essentially a pops concert, in keeping with the occasion. When Daniel Barenboim was eleven years old, Wilhelm Furtwaengler described him as "a phenomenon", and the Wunderkind did not disappoint. On this DVD, we are afforded many aspects of Barenboim as pianist, conductor, chamber musician, arranger. The selections range from Bach through Mozart and early- and late-Romantic repertoire, peppered with Latin-American whimsical pieces reflecting Barenboim's international background (he was born in Buenos Aires, grew up in Israel, and studied in Europe). The Berlin Philharmonic and its soloists shed their staid "front" and engage enthusiastically and virtuosically in even the most whimsical of "pop" pieces. Barenboim's unique conducting style, employing a minimum of gesture, recalls that of Leonard Bernstein's: When the music is self-generating, stand aside and let it speak for itself!


DVD 3: EUROPA-KONZERT 2002 - BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture, Op 84 / BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D, Op 77 / DVORAK: Symphony #9 in e, Op. 95

(New World) / VERDI: Vespri Siciliani Overture / Gil Shaham, Violin/
Claudio Abbado, Conductor

Like Barenboim's stellar 'Fantastique' on DVD 1, Claudio Abbado here sets a new high for another equally popular pillar of the symphonic repertoire, Dvorak's Ninth (used to be Fifth) Symphony, "From the New World", composed during the composer's sojourn in America. Abbado justifiably earned several standing ovations from the audience for this thrilling, deeply-felt rendition, recorded during the 2002 Europe Concert in Palermo. Also included on the disc are Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Brahms' Violin Concerto in D, Op 77, with another Israeli star, violinist Gil Shaham, and a very appropriate encore, Verdi's 'I Vespri Siciliani' Overture, that really brought the house down! A somewhat over-long bonus 'A Portrait of Palermo' is also included. So on the whole, this DVD should be considered an outstanding success. Alas, this is not the case, and here's why: In virtually all concerto recordings, soloists have at least one microphone focused on them, for obvious reasons. Gil Shaham plays his heart out in this truly gorgeous performance, yet can barely be heard! Even during pianissimo passages when the orchestra's playing is barely a murmur, one has to strain to hear the violin. I'm sorry to say that this otherwise magnificent recording is seriously flawed by inadequate engineering.


DVD 4: A GERSHWIN NIGHT - An American in Paris / Rhapsody in Blue / Concerto in F / Other Selections / With the Marcus Roberts Trio / Seji Ozawa, Conductor.

This exciting event began in broad daylight (in spite of the "Night" in the title) at the Berlin Waldb├╝hne in 2003, before a vast and enthusiastic audience that must have numbered in I don't know how many thousands - a veritable sea of people! - and featuring the phenomenally gifted pianist Marcus Roberts, who is blind, and his trio partners, Roland Guerin on bass, and Jason Marsalis, drums. An impish Seiji Ozawa bounded onto the stage, and with facial expressions to match, set the lighthearted tone for the rest of the performance. The BPO people who put together this outstanding package chose well. Marcus Roberts and his trio play extended cadenzas. The shorter selections and bonus documentary were icing on this very delicious cake!


DVD 5: BRAHMS: Piano Concerto #1 in d, Op. 15 / Piano Quartet #1 in g, Op. 25 (Orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg) / Daniel Barenboim, Piano / Sir Simon Rattle, Conductor

The last of the five-DVD set again features the incredible artistry and versatility of Daniel Barenboim. His performance in the Concerto, Brahms' most dramatic work, is stupendous! Conductor Rattle and the Berliners' support is seamless, and the result is another truly historic document. I'm surprised by the choice of the Schoenberg orchestral arrangement of the Op. 25 Piano quartet. The brochure lists Barenboim as the pianist - which is not the case, since this is a purely orchestral version. In listening to this very pianistic work, I felt it was neither fish nor fowl, but had to admire the virtuosity of the wind and string players ability to play keyboard-like passages convincingly. Kudos are also due to the sound engineers, who captured (this and the Gershwin) outdoor performances in such excellent quality.

The bonus documentary is very informative and entertaining. In sum, given that very little in this world is a perfect 10, I'd rate this package as a 9 plus.



Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, February 2007

DVD 1: HAYDN: Symphony #49 in G 'Surprise' / MOZART: Flute Concerto #2 in D, K.314 / BERLIOZ: Symphony Fantastique, Op.14 I'd like to state at the outset, flat-out, that this first disc is so outstanding as to be worth the price of the entire set. To begin with, I just love Mariss Jansons' conducting! He is so committed, infectiously expressive, and obviously erudite. His tempi for Haydn and Mozart are just right, and the French-Swiss flutist Emmanuel Pahud, who at age 22 became principal flute of the BPO, brought to mind the late Jean-Pierre Rampal, down to the little balletic steps he takes while moved by the music (even though he is a student of another great master, Aurele Nicolet.) So far, so good. But the main event of this concert has to be the Berlioz. I must have heard this halucinogenic masterpiece a hundred times over the years. For a long while, I had a solid favourite - the 1950s RCA Victor recording with Pierre Monteux and the San Francsico Symphony. There were others nearly as good, some definitely lacking, but this one is - for me - the best ever! For starters, let's consider the venue of this concert - the Hagia Eirene church in Istanbul, a vast Byzantine edifice with simply stupendous acoustics. Conductor Mariss Jansons must have been inspired by this setting, and managed to convey his heightened state of mind to his musicians. There are so many oustanding moments in this performance one could dwell upon, but the apex of the work, in the 5th movement 'Dies Irae' - the tolling of the bell which never fails to startle, is sounded on real church bells and is devastatingly effective! As I said earlier in the review, for me at least, this is the non plus ultra 'Fantastique!'. Bonuses include a 'Portrait of Istanbul' and 'Behind the scenes'

DVD 2: NEW YEAR'S EVE CONCERT 2001 - "Invitation to the Dance" with Daniel Barenboim, Pianist and Conductor / Works by BACH, MOZART, VERDI, DVORAK, TCHAIKOVSKY, J. STRAUSS, JR./ KODALY, BRAHMS This is essentially a pops concert, in keeping with the occasion. When Daniel Barenboim was eleven years old, Wilhelm Furtwaengler described him as "a phenomenon", and the Wunderkind did not disappoint. On this DVD, we are afforded many aspects of Barenboim as pianist, conductor, chamber musician, arranger. The selections range from Bach through Mozart and early- and late-Romantic repertoire, peppered with Latin-American whimsical pieces reflecting Barenboim's international background (he was born in Buenos Aires, grew up in Israel, and studied in Europe). The Berlin Philharmonic and its soloists shed their staid "front" and engage enthusiastically and virtuosically in even the most whimsical of "pop" pieces. Barenboim's unique conducting style, employing a minimum of gesture, recalls that of Leonard Bernstein's: When the music is self-generating, stand aside and let it speak for itself!

DVD 3: EUROPA-KONZERT 2002 - BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture, Op 84 / BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D, Op 77 / DVORAK: Symphony #9 in e, Op. 95 (New World) / VERDI: Vespri Siciliani Overture / Gil Shaham, Violin/ Claudio Abbado, Conductor Like Barenboim's stellar 'Fantastique' on DVD 1, Claudio Abbado here sets a new high for another equally popular pillar of the symphonic repertoire, Dvorak's Ninth (used to be Fifth) Symphony, "From the New World", composed during the composer's sojourn in America. Abbado justifiably earned several standing ovations from the audience for this thrilling, deeply-felt rendition, recorded during the 2002 Europe Concert in Palermo. Also included on the disc are Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Brahms' Violin Concerto in D, Op 77, with another Israeli star, violinist Gil Shaham, and a very appropriate encore, Verdi's 'I Vespri Siciliani' Overture, that really brought the house down! A somewhat over-long bonus 'A Portrait of Palermo' is also included. So on the whole, this DVD should be considered an outstanding success. Alas, this is not the case, and here's why: In virtually all concerto recordings, soloists have at least one microphone focused on them, for obvious reasons. Gil Shaham plays his heart out in this truly gorgeous performance, yet can barely be heard! Even during pianissimo passages when the orchestra's playing is barely a murmur, one has to strain to hear the violin. I'm sorry to say that this otherwise magnificent recording is seriously flawed by inadequate engineering.

DVD 4: A GERSHWIN NIGHT - An American in Paris / Rhapsody in Blue / Concerto in F / Other Selections / With the Marcus Roberts Trio / Seji Ozawa, Conductor. This exciting event began in broad daylight (in spite of the "Night" in the title) at the Berlin Waldb├╝hne in 2003, before a vast and enthusiastic audience that must have numbered in I don't know how many thousands - a veritable sea of people! - and featuring the phenomenally gifted pianist Marcus Roberts, who is blind, and his trio partners, Roland Guerin on bass, and Jason Marsalis, drums. An impish Seiji Ozawa bounded onto the stage, and with facial expressions to match, set the lighthearted tone for the rest of the performance. The BPO people who put together this outstanding package chose well. Marcus Roberts and his trio play extended cadenzas. The shorter selections and bonus documentary were icing on this very delicious cake!

DVD 5: BRAHMS: Piano Concerto #1 in d, Op. 15 / Piano Quartet #1 in g, Op. 25 (Orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg) / Daniel Barenboim, Piano / Sir Simon Rattle, Conductor The last of the five-DVD set again features the incredible artistry and versatility of Daniel Barenboim. His performance in the Concerto, Brahms' most dramatic work, is stupendous! Conductor Rattle and the Berliners' support is seamless, and the result is another truly historic document. I'm surprised by the choice of the Schoenberg orchestral arrangement of the Op. 25 Piano quartet. The brochure lists Barenboim as the pianist - which is not the case, since this is a purely orchestral version. In listening to this very pianistic work, I felt it was neither fish nor fowl, but had to admire the virtuosity of the wind and string players ability to play keyboard-like passages convincingly. Kudos are also due to the sound engineers, who captured (this and the Gershwin) outdoor performances in such excellent quality. The bonus documentary is very informative and entertaining. In sum, given that very little in this world is a perfect 10, I'd rate this package as a 9 plus.






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7:53:09 PM, 28 August 2014
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