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Peter Quantrill
Gramophone, September 2011

An exceptional Eighth but the rest never seems to catch fire

As the opening of Dvořák’s Eighth is moulded and caressed into life by Mariss Jansons, more gently and sensually than on his studio recording (EMI), it quickly becomes apparent how distant we are from the plain-speaking affection of a native account by Talich or Ančerl. The sound and approach is quite similar to that taken by Rattle and the orchestra when they toured the Seventh a few years ago—a performance widely disliked at the time for the want of spontaneity and “knowing veneer of sophistication” that antagonised Andrew Achenbach when he reviewed the same team’s recording of tone-poems (EMI, 9/05). For myself, I’m more than happy to be reminded of the mutual admiration between Brahms and Dvořák in the ambivalent melancholy of the third movement’s Trio, taken slowly and with rich portamento; to be gripped by the tightly wound, emphatic development of the first movement; to be disconcerted by the episodes of both slow movement and finale when they’re presented with operatically charged tension and abrupt transitions. This is an exceptional account.

The remainder of the concert is less demanding of a second or third audition. The Weber is fun, as is the Slavonic Dance encore, but the concerto partnership, so propitious on paper, never catches light. Both the Weber and Shostakovich lack a dark side. The cor anglais and basses set the Passacaglia on its grave course with all the eloquence at their command—and this is the Berlin Philharmonic—but in a performance that feels faster than the clock shows, Hahn rides the line rather than shaping it. It’s admirable that she never compromises what Rob Cowan called her “sweetness-and-steel tone”, not even in the cadenza, but the finale brings little catharsis, for all its velocity—the same is true of the relationship between Scherzo and opening Nocturne—because few secrets, intimate or alarming, had been hitherto confided. She digs deeper into the piece on CD (Sony, 4/03). Her own encore, the Presto from Bach’s G minor Solo Sonata, doesn’t escape the air of impressive command but faceless despatch. When record companies do more with filmed concerts than just throwing the lot on a DVD, such anomalies—intrinsic to the concert-going experience—may recede. I’m not holding my breath.



William Hedley
MusicWeb International, August 2011

For those who do much or most of their listening with the score in hand, a DVD is not much use. Because you have to watch a DVD as well as to listen, taking it down off the shelves and putting it on is more of an occasion than listening to a CD is. It feels more like going to a concert to me, and indeed, filmed concerts, like this one, do tend to work well.

Living a long way from any of the major musical centres, I haven’t had the privilege of seeing any of the artists on this DVD in the flesh—though Hilary Hahn did come to Toulouse some time ago. Watching it is therefore a major compensation. The fact that it took place in Tokyo is of added interest, as I’ve never been to Japan either.

To get the details out of the way first, the sound and picture quality are outstanding, though people tell me that new formats are, and will be, even better. The concert is sensitively yet simply filmed: I don’t think there is a single moment when I wish the camera was looking at something else. The concert is filmed in order, the only slightly disquieting aspect being that the applause at the end of one piece is merged into that preceding the next one, giving a slightly breathless feel to proceedings. There are no “extras”, apart from four trailers for other issues featuring the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, but the disc is accompanied by a booklet containing a typically level-headed and informative essay by Keith Anderson.

The concert opens with a lively and exciting account of Weber’s Oberon Overture. Jansons turns out to be a most interesting conductor to watch, conducting from memory here, and without a baton. His hands are very expressive, and he really is with the orchestra, looking at them the whole time, with very clear gestures and no fancy histrionics. “Bravos” erupt from the audience even at the end of this opening piece.

Hilary Hahn, twenty-one at the time of the concert, delivers one of the finest performances I have heard of Shostakovich’s glorious first concerto. She and her remarkable accompanists deliver the first movement in, as it were, a single breath, hushed pianissimo passages particularly striking. She is clearly leading the proceedings in the fast, second movement, constantly pushing forwards. Then there is the Passacaglia, where the second statement of the theme brings marvellous, perfectly balanced sound from the woodwind, so rich and nourished, yet so terribly sad. The woodwind principals’ duets with the soloist in this movement are particularly moving. Hahn begins the cadenza as if improvising, musing on the material, communing with the composer and the instrument, and we are observers, almost intruders. Jansons and members of the orchestra are sometimes in shot, and their rapt stillness is touching to witness. There are plenty of fireworks in the finale, and one is in awe to think that so much force and energy can be created by someone so insubstantial and undemonstrative. The audience erupts at the end, to which she gives a demure smile, a little shy, as she also does after the Bach encore, played with spellbinding accuracy and brilliance.

The Dvořák symphony is beautifully done. Conducting again from memory—he had the score to hand in the Shostakovich—Jansons delivers a thoroughly engaging and idiomatic performance. He caresses the second group of subjects in the first movement, and helps the wonderful Berlin strings produce a sound at the beginning of the slow movement that must be described as gorgeous. The Scherzo is delicious, Jansons very successful at bringing out the Bohemian atmosphere without a hint of parody, and the finale is totally successful, exciting, heart-warming music that makes you glad to be alive, especially in a performance like this. A Dvořák Slavonic Dance is given as an encore, played, as is the whole programme, with astonishing aplomb and brilliance by this magnificent orchestra. After this, the players decline the conductor’s invitation to stand, preferring to applaud him themselves instead.

So whenever I watch this DVD it will probably be straight through, as if I were at the concert. The performances of the two major works are as fine as any I have heard…



Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, April 2011

Dmitry Shostakovich had the amazing ability to compose wonderful lyrical music which is filled with great expression. His Violin Concerto number 1, in A-Minor, Op. 99 is no exception. This work opens with a movement titled “Nocturne” which is just such a creation. Violinist David Oistrakh said at the time of the 1955 premiere that the concerto was an innovative work, and remarkable for its ‘surprising seriousness and depth of its artistic content…’

Three additional movements follow; they are:
• Scherzo
• Passacaglia
• Burlesca

Hilary Hahn plays this concerto brilliantly, passionately and with great lyrical and technical excellence. Her virtuosity is clearly seen throughout this piece.

Another treasure on this DVD is the Dvořák Eighth symphony: As interpreted by the Berlin Philharmonic, this symphony emerges as a glowing, dramatic and thoroughly musical performance. Mariss Jansons leads the Berlin players into very fine music making!






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6:49:39 AM, 17 April 2014
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