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Bruce Surtees
The WholeNote, November 2011

Until you have seen it, you cannot imagine the meticulous attention given to even the slightest passing notes and the perfection of the performances where these felicities pass fleetingly by (Arthaus DVD 101063).

Paul Orgel
Fanfare, November 2011

Watching Carlos Kleiber’s 1970 rehearsals of overtures by Weber and Johann Strauss II and the magnificent concert performances that follow is an enlightening and moving experience.

Paul Orgel
Fanfare, July 2011

These rehearsals and concert performances from 1970 capture the great Carlos Kleiber in his prime, on the verge of great fame. He radiates energy and emotional response to every moment of the music. Formidably articulate, and as verbally resourceful as he is physically communicative, he gives almost no technical advice beyond twice asking the violins to play lower on the bow. The orchestra, mostly older men, is stone-faced. They seem a little incredulous that a conductor would say so much and stop so often to address details in two warhorses, but their playing is brought to a higher level by Kleiber’s cajoling, occasional impatience, praise, and encouragement to take risks. The atmosphere loosens up in the Fledermaus Overture rehearsal. How could it not? Kleiber’s precision and dance-like grace communicate this music’s wit and effervescence so completely that anyone would be disarmed.

Arthaus’s presentation is straightforward. We watch 45 minutes of rehearsal of the Freischütz Overture—no narration, interviews, or supplementary material—followed by the performance. The same sequence follows with the Fledermaus Overture. Watching the concert performances, given before a small audience in Stuttgart’s Villa Berg, the viewer will realize how many essential points were covered in the rehearsal. What might have seemed rambling or impulsive was actually carefully paced and organized.

Kleiber’s first comment in the Freischütz rehearsal is a whimsical bit of reverse psychology: “Let your colleague come in first—maybe he will guess right.” It serves notice to the orchestra and the viewer that nothing will be routine. (It also cleans up the opening entrance.) For Kleiber, the instruments are interchangeable with the opera’s characters. He knows Der Freischütz (and Die Fledermaus) inside out and assumes that the orchestra does, too. Indeed, the majority of his instructions reflect his experience in the opera house. They concern the music’s emotional quality, the dramatic character of sound, the color achieved by proper balance between instruments, and above all, the need for the players to listen to each other and for lines to sing.

For the 10 minutes of Der Freischütz’s overture, Weber transcends his place as a second-rank composer and achieves a level of greatness comparable to Beethoven’s—the piece owes a lot to the Leonore overtures—or the best of early Wagner. At the cathartic C-Major outburst that starts the overture’s final section, the look of utter joy on Kleiber’s face moved me, literally, to tears. The man is possessed by the music. Watching him in his tailcoat from the audience’s vantage point, he resembles the heroic image of the “Traveler Looking out at the Fog” in Caspar David Friedrich’s emblematic romantic painting. (In the Fledermaus Oveture, his elegant lightness of bearing brings to mind the statue of Johann Strauss in Vienna’s Stadt Park, minus the violin.)

Kleiber rarely appeared before cameras or gave interviews, so Arthaus provides a rare opportunity with this release. This DVD should be required viewing for students of conducting and is urgently recommended to everyone else. It shows what can be achieved in rehearsals when the conductor is a genius. I also recommend Traces to Nowhere, an in-depth German documentary about Kleiber that can be seen in five parts on YouTube.

Anne Shelley
Music Media Monthly, March 2011

Austrian conductor Carlos Kleiber’s reputation for being elusive, unreliable, and likely to cancel without much warning is as pervasive as the recognition of his artistic brilliance and charismatic character. Kleiber agreed to engagements irregularly and, when he did commit to work, it was only under very specific circumstances. He often attended early rehearsals—an unusual insistence for opera conductors—and required an unconventional number of them (thirty-four total for Wozzeck in Munich). For his attention to detail and his intense yet controlled emotional range, Kleiber received praise from Bernstein and Karajan, the latter of whom he was chosen to succeed at Berlin in 1989. Kleiber, who had at that point been relying on guest appointments for over twenty years, refused the offer.

Recorded in the spring of 1970, this rare, reissued black-and-white footage shows Kleiber just prior to the height of his fame and a decade before he began holding only closed rehearsals. The gifted conductor rehearses the overtures of Der Freischütz and Die Fledermaus, two standards in his extraordinarily limited discography. Performances of the two overtures are also included on the disc. The footage showcases the positive effects of a conductor’s ability to build an emotional rapport with his ensemble; Kleiber is demanding and persistent, yet the players’ responses are skillful, glad, and engaged. It’s evident that every bit of this man is invested in his efforts, his knowledge of the score is enormous, and his ability to verbally communicate the narrative of the music to his ensemble is unparalleled. Because the content is more inspiring than informational, this film may be more appropriate for advanced conducting students or those enrolled in a choral methods course rather than undergraduates.

My Classical Notes, March 2011

In my view, Carlos Kleiber was one of the greatest orchestra conductors during the past 100 years. As a leader, as a musician, as a communicator with players, as a person who inspires top performances, this man was second to none!

It is unfortunate that we have so little of his recorded work left for enjoyment and study, since he’s now gone.

I watched this DVD last night and I was truly delighted and amazed: Mr. Kleiber’s attention to musical details, to precision of dynamics, to musical style, and to the finer intricacies of getting the spirit of a musical composition are all revealed in this marvelous recording. His work and commitment was an inspiration. It seems to me that this DVD should serve as a model in music schools and conducting classes…You can see and hear how Kleiber guides individual musicians and entire sections to have them achieve specific improvements. He often asks the performers to play lighter, with more grace, or to emphasize different suble areas of the music.

I own several other DVD’s by Carlos Kleiber, such as his interpretation of Brahms’ second symphony, and also of a Mozart symphony. I now understand better why I always enjoy these DVD so much, as well.

See my review of the concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in Berkeley that I posted a few says ago. Wow…what that concert would have been like if Maestro Kleiber was conducting!

Highly recommended!

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