, March 2011
INTRODUCING MASTERPIECES - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphony No. 5 (NTSC) 2056028
INTRODUCING MASTERPIECES - MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 5 (NTSC) 2056178
I reviewed these concert performances for Fanfare when they were first released (Beethoven in 33:1 and Mahler in 29:1). What’s new is the format; these DVDs are part of a new EuroArts series with the overall title Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music. The performances are accompanied by a documentary that places the work within its composer’s life and the larger historical context. The video is in a widescreen (16:9) aspect, and the audio is available in PCM stereo, Dolby, and DTS 5.1 surround. English, German, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided for each documentary.
The documentaries are the standard combination of narration, commentary from contemporary sources, and lecture. In the case of the Beethoven, the work is examined movement by movement with explication provided by Wulf Konold and the musical examples illustrated by Abbado’s performance (Konold’s German is subtitled for non-German speakers). The explication should be comprehensible to anyone with a modicum of musical knowledge; excerpts from the printed score are used sparingly but usefully. I noticed one interesting anomaly: Konold explains that instead of repeating the Scherzo, fanfare and all, Beethoven provides the innovative transitional passage that leads to the finale. However, Abbado’s performance includes the optional full repeat of Scherzo and Trio.
The Mahler documentary follows the same template. Jeremy Barham provides somewhat redundant examples from the piano, since the excerpts from Abbado’s performance cover the same passages (though the piano examples illuminate the principal themes and may be easier for beginners to follow). Some of the narration is almost inaudible, though, vying as it does with the orchestra in full cry—an unfortunate weakness in this production.
For those of us raised on Bernstein’s Young People’s Concert broadcasts, these documentaries will seem dry, offering a few insights but few revelations and little of the personality of the incomparable Lenny. I also prefer the more insightful and colorful Keeping Score series from MTT and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. As volumes for a basic library of great music, though, these DVDs are more than adequate, mostly due to the superb performances by Abbado.