, November 2010
This concert was filmed at Berlin’s Waldbühne, an enormous outdoor venue built in the National Socialist era (for the 1936 Olympic Games) and modeled on the ancient Greek theater at Epidauros. More than 20,000 people came to enjoy picnic suppers and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra playing a program billed as “Russian Rhythms.” Three movements from The Nutcracker are performed benignly enough, followed by Yefim Bronfman’s solid though never heavy-handed virtuosity in the Rachmaninoff. Toward the end of the piano concerto, we can see the sky darkening ominously and by the time Sir Simon returns after intermission to begin Le Sacre, we can hear the rain coming down behind the high-flying bassoon solo. The crowd huddles beneath plastic sheets and umbrellas, as raptly attentive as ever. The precipitation comes and goes, giving the filmmaker something of a narrative element to work with.
As the liner notes point out, the Stravinsky was not repertoire that fared especially well with Herbert von Karajan and the BPO of his era, but this is now quite literally a different ensemble: Rattle delivers a reading that’s rhythmically bracing and vividly colored. For encores, after another selection from The Nutcracker, the elfin conductor lets the BPO run under its own steam and makes his way back to the percussion section to man the cymbals for Paul Lincke’s Berliner Luft. The damp audience sings along happily.
The cinematography is fine, following the throng’s trials with the weather but not distracting from the musical business at hand. Sonically, we certainly do better at home than those at the Waldbühne did in person. There’s an enormous phalanx of loudspeakers in front of the stage, the only way listeners in Row 88 could possibly have heard much of anything. On the Blu-ray, in surround or stereo, the audio is pretty much what you’d get from a studio or concert-hall recording.