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Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, October 2011

Here we are in 2011, with the 2006 concert from Prague, which Michael Greenhalgh reviewed on its original release (Euroarts 2055308). Unlike previous years, though, the liner-notes have been retained. The catalogue, which hitherto has ousted the liner-notes and squeezed itself into the DVD case, sits alongside the DVD case in cardboard housing instead.

As 2006 was a Mozart anniversary year, that year’s European Concert comprised Mozart’s music only and took place in the Estates Theatre, the theatrical birth place of Don Giovanni.

The programme is attractive and mildly surprising. The obvious Prague Symphony, No.38, is put aside and Don Giovanni does not raise the curtain.

Instead the concert opens with a smile-inducing performance of Mozart’s Haffner, and closes with a spirited Linz. In between the symphonies, we are treated to a delightful performance of the E flat major piano concerto, K482, Barenboim directing from the keyboard. There’s also a plummy rendering of the first concerto for horn.

For me it is the piano concerto that is the highlight. Barenboim’s playing is chatty, charming and at times whimsical. He achieves a lovely rapport with the orchestra, which he faces across his lidless piano, back to the audience. The second movement is hauntingly beautiful, with Barenboim almost rhapsodically flexible. The Berlin winds, offering consolation, are simply gorgeous in tone and blend.

Beside the E flat major piano concert, the first horn concerto seems slight, an impression enhanced by the remarkable ease with which the virtuosic horn writing is despatched by the Berlin Philharmonic’s principal horn.

Both symphonies are characterised by thrust and gusto in the outer movements, and warmth in the inner movements. A serious face from the podium stares at serious faces among the orchestra, but there is bluff humour in the playing. While the string section has been trimmed for this all Mozart programme, this is the only concession made to period performance orthodoxy. Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic make a robust sound at broadly traditional tempi. HIPsters may grimace, but for the rest of us the warm, joyous sound this approach engenders makes for highly enjoyable listening.

The recorded sound is warm and immediate, assisted by a sympathetic acoustic, and the direction makes generous use of multiple camera angles without becoming fussy.

This is a very enjoyable release and well worth snapping up at its discounted price.

Mortimer H. Frank
Fanfare, July 2011

…all of the performances are first-rate, both symphonies generally stylish. Unlike many conductors today, Barenboim ignores all repeats in both works. But his tempos are well chosen, especially in outer movements, and the comparatively small ensemble permits a welcome clarity of texture and detail. No. 36, in particular, is impressive in a performance that recalls the superb recording of the work made in the late 1940s by Fritz Busch in Denmark. And in No. 35, the trumpets (sometimes veiled in larger ensembles) cut through the texture, underscoring the music’s festive ethos. As a soloist, Barenboim is flexible and tasteful, echoing in many ways the recording of the work he made two decades ago for Teldec. And the two-movement horn concerto is superbly played by (presumably) the BPO’s first-chair instrumentalist.

Richard Wigmore
Gramophone, May 2011

Wisdom and compelling music-making as the Berliners visit Prague

Venue, orchestra and conductor/soloist make this DVD virtually self-recommending, especially if you like your Mozart spacious and urbane. There are few more exquisite rococo settings in Europe than Prague’s beautifully restored, horseshoe-shaped Estates Theatre, with the orchestra seated on the stage that saw the premiere of Don Giovanni. Camerawork is intelligent and unfussy. Under Barenboim’s thoughtful direction, the Berlin Philharmonic, slimmed down to between 40 and 45 players, articulate this familiar music with all their accustomed finesse. The first movement of the Haffner is more maestoso than con spirito, making up in grandeur and (in the passages of sinuous counterpoint) lyrical intensity what it lacks in fire. Here and elsewhere Barenboim is specially attentive to the inner string-writing that gives Mozart’s textures their characteristic sensuous richness. The serenading Andante wears a distinctly serious air at Barenboim’s broad tempo; and the finale could hardly be said to go “as fast as possible”, as Mozart exhorted. Yet while I missed a roguish, conspiratorial twinkle, the detail, clarity and inner vitality of the playing have their own rewards. The Linz – shorn of its repeats, like the Andante and finale of the Haffner – is a performance in similar mould, with Barenboim stressing majesty and espressivo warmth over sinew and (in the finale) wit. In the Adagio the strings phrase and colour with a chamber-musical refinement – though I wish the soft timpani strokes that enhance the music’s solemnity had registered more clearly. Between the symphonies, Radek Baborák, playing with smooth, rounded tone, gives a buoyant account of the D major Horn Concerto (probably Mozart’s last rather than his first), while Barenboim, if not quite as pianistically immaculate as of yore, brings his rich Mozartian experience to the wind-saturated E flat Concerto. In some moods you might feel he over-romanticises the C minor Andante, especially in the almost Chopinesque morbidezza he brings to the coda. I can’t say I warmed to his fussy treatment of the soloist’s “second subject” in the opening Allegro. But Barenboim always commands attention with his strength of vision and mastery of phrasing and colour, whether in the passionate sweep of the first-movement development, or the infectious finale, piano sparring impishly with the superlative Berlin wind. So while authenticists will doubtless give this a wide berth, there is much wise and compelling music-making to savour here. A pity, though, that we are not offered a more inspiring “bonus” than a whistle-stop tour of Prague’s cultural sights.

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10:40:22 PM, 13 October 2015
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