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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, March 2011

There were six filmed collaborations between von Karajan and Henri-Georges Clouzot, the Frenchman who directed the suspense-laden film ‘The Wages of Fear’. Two of them are enshrined in this DVD, and what a contrasting pair they make. The frippery of the Mozart stands at a drastic remove to the elemental force of the Dvořák, even though both were made in 1966. Both are in black and white.

Karajan directs Menuhin and the Vienna Symphony in Mozart’s A major concerto. Candles flare in a rococo, mirrored room. We stare into the mirror, which reflects the musicians, before the camera pan across to them. In front of them are about six evenly spaced gilt-backed chairs—the symbolic audience (Clouzot was French, after all). Most of the shots are front on, though sometimes we’re treated to shots over Menuhin’s left shoulder, an unusual arrangement. The solid burghers of the VSO sit surrounding soloist and conductor, in a tight horseshoe formation. Menuhin plays with great charm. But something gnawed away at me. The fiddlers are often seen anxiously sneaking a look at Menuhin’s bowing arm and things didn’t look properly synchronised. So, checking Richard Osborne’s biography of the conductor, I read that the musicians were largely miming to a playback track. But that didn’t seem quite right either, because the finale seems fine. My surmise, and it’s just that, is that they were all playing along to a playback in the first two movements, which is why the violins were trying to synchronise their bowing with Menuhin’s and therefore not bothering about Karajan, but were caught ‘live’ in the finale.

This was Menuhin’s only filmed encounter with Karajan, and thus valuable. Clearly the effect intended now seems a touch ridiculous; Franco-Viennese kitsch, lacking only periwigs to complete the rococo picture, but perhaps for that reason it makes for startling viewing.

The Dvořák is a different kettle of fish. The Berlin Philharmonic is dressed in jackets and ties, Karajan in leisure wear, his collar upturned, eyes mostly tightly shut. There are a number of different camera angles. The positioning of orchestra and conductor is such that they are almost lapping at his feet. He stands surrounded by a vast body of instrumentalists, a vast sectional mass. The effect, once the performance is underway and Karajan directs them with such power and precision, is of a giant centrifugal force in action, a supercharged current emanating from a single man outwards. It’s a revealing example of the art of the conductor as mediated by film, the spatial exaggerations emphasising the power balance. It’s fortunate that this is certainly the conductor’s best surviving performance of the symphony—strong, occasionally a touch heavy. It’s good to catch the hint of a benign smile on his face during the scherzo.

The bonus features include a rehearsal segment for the Mozart, in English, in which Karajan encourages ‘open’ playing, and talks of body of tone, and legato phrasing; he’s keen to instil a softened tone and attack. Detractors would doubtless add that this is to beautify the sound. The interview between conductor and soloist is conducted casually with Karajan seated at the piano. This was the time when Menuhin was busy with his Bath Festival orchestra and Karajan tries to probe him as to his own ideas on conducting, especially as Menuhin had just conducted the Berlin Philharmonic. ‘Twelve words will change the music’ announces Karajan, ‘…too long, short…’ His pragmatism contrasts with Menuhin’s occasionally sycophantic platitudes, but for once—and in English, too—the violinist is comprehensively out-talked by Karajan. The most memorable comment indeed comes from Karajan, who says that when an orchestra is encouraged to try a different approach it’s like a flock of birds changing direction. The final bonus, and I enjoyed it, is the discussion, in German, between Karajan and Joachim Kaiser on the subject of folk melodies in Dvořák.

Joseph Magil
American Record Guide, March 2011

The Mozart is given a good if unremarkable performance…intelligent camera work…

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, March 2011

This remarkable DVD captures not only the lone collaboration between Karajan and Menuhin, but two of the five performance films directed by the brilliant Henri-Georges Clouzot. The second page of the booklet and back cover of the DVD case list both performances as 1966, but the liner notes clearly state that the Mozart concerto dates from 1965. The films are black and white, the sound is mono, yet both the visual and audio elements of these performances continue to impress after 45 years.

The Mozart was shot in a somewhat large drawing room, fixed up to simulate the 18th century, including hordes of candles. Members of the Vienna Symphony surround Karajan in a semicircle as he conducts them. Menuhin is placed front and center, closer to our perspective. I liked Menuhin’s Mozart performances of the 1930s, but was not very convinced of Karajan as a Mozart conductor in those years. His strings always sounded just a little too lush (and, as this film shows, it wasn’t so much the size of the section as the textural balance and shimmering vibrato) and his rhythmic accents always seemed too rounded, not sharp enough. I had the same caveats about his supposedly “classic” recording of the Mozart Horn Concertos with Dennis Brain, not to mention his various Mozart opera performances, at least until the 1980s when he modified his approach, producing sharper accents and less heavily vibrant strings. (I consider his 1985 Salzburg Don Giovanni to be a masterpiece in its own way.) Whether or not Menuhin himself changed his approach, or was influenced to some extent by Karajan, his own playing here is also more rounded and less incisive than in his earlier recordings. Of course, the playing is extraordinarily beautiful in its own way, but particularly in the second movement, everything floats as if on a cloud—very pretty, attractive to the ear, but not particularly Mozartian. Even the fast final portion of the concerto has too many string swells, too many rallentandos, too much smoothness. The camera moves around, not too quickly or quirkily, to show different angles of the performance and thus keep up visual interest.

The Dvořák begins with a close-up of one of the cellists’ instrument and bow. The opening is, again, a little too mushy, but when Karajan begins the allegro section there is a little more bite. The environment doesn’t look like the Berlin Philharmonie, but rather a large room, with Karajan standing among the strings, leading in black rehearsal garb. The slow-down for the flute solo is too extreme for my taste. The brass and percussion sit on raised tiers beyond Karajan and the strings. This film doesn’t appear to be in as good shape as the Mozart; there is considerable flickering of light and dark, particularly near the beginning. All returns to lyrical sections are marked by heavy tempo deceleration. The second movement floats like the Adagio of the Mozart concerto, perhaps a shade more appropriate, but certainly not in the Czech tradition. As I mentioned, Karajan was to become an outstanding conductor late in his career, but he passed through this phase of contour-softening on his way to a leaner, more style-appropriate approach. The third movement is much of the same. Only in the last movement does the orchestra wake up and play with incisive rhythm.

The extras, also directed by Clouzot, show exactly why Karajan’s style was so corrupted in those days. At the start of the rehearsal sequence, he instructs the strings to play the first note as a fermata. Why? There’s no musically sound reason for it. Then he explains to Menuhin how he wants the musical “shape” of his first phrase to “blend into” the flute. Why blend? Every time the string players’ instinct is to play a sharper accent, Karajan pulls them back. In their conversation, Menuhin admits that he enjoys being “led” by a great conductor, even if the conception is not his own, because he feels it is an inspiration. He felt he could grow as an artist that way. I’m not sure I agree that such an approach to Mozart could help one grow, merely to see the music in a different light—not the style of the composer—which is not the same thing, but that’s just my opinion.

Karajan’s conversation with musicologist Joachim Kaiser on the Dvořák Ninth is much more interesting. The conductor tries to determine how much of the score is genuine folk music, how much was made up by Dvořák, and whether or not a conductor should interpret it in the folk style or the classical style. Kaiser discuses the difference between Falla, who once said that if he wanted real folk melodies he had to write them himself, and Chopin, for whom Polish folk music was “deadly serious” and a constant stimulus for his creativity. Karajan touches on the subject of the second movement, whether it contains Indian music or American Negro (Africa-American) music. Kaiser feels that American musicologists magnify it too much because they are so proud that Dvořák created something like “their” music, but Karajan rightly judges that Dvořák himself is partly to blame for this, as he gave contradictory and simplistic explanations for those themes. Neither one of them mentions that the famous melody in the second movement was not based on an African-American spiritual, but that the spiritual evolved from the symphony. They do discuss, however, that 19th-century interpretations of music tended toward the poetic and the fantastic; people were less apt to hear “music as music,” and Kaiser points out that pentatonic themes, though seemingly familiar, were not really common in classical music of that era. It’s an interesting discussion and, to me, one of the best parts of the disc.

Stephen Habington
La Scena Musicale, March 2011

This DVD is rather special for a couple of reasons. It is the only recorded collaboration between Karajan and Yehudi Menuhin, and also the second last completed film project directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot for the conductor. Clouzot (1907–1977) had created feature film masterpieces of suspense such as Le salaire de la peur (1952) and Les diaboliques (1954). He filmed only in black and white and here used the playback system (to pre-recorded performances). The director became involved in the project to indulge his passion for music. Clouzot passed from the scene when Herbert von Karajan got tired of playing Herbert von Karajan. The Mozart concerto is set in a baroque salon with the players attired in evening dress. For the symphony, the orchestra wears street clothes and Karajan impersonates himself in a sports shirt. It happens that the musical performances here are excellent and the imagery fascinating. This DVD is an essential supplement to the EuroArts release, Herbert von Karajan in Rehearsal and Performance, which offers Schumann’s Fourth Symphony and Beethoven’s Fifth.

Richard Osborne
Gramophone, February 2011

KARAJAN, Herbert von: In Rehearsal and Performance - MOZART, W.A.: Violin Concerto No. 5 / DVOŘÁK, A.: Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” (NTSC) 704008
KARAJAN, Herbert von: In Rehearsal and Performance - MOZART, W.A.: Violin Concerto No. 5 / DVOŘÁK, A.: Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” (Blu-ray) 704104

A breakthrough in filmed performance as Karajan marches into a New World

The six-film collaboration between Karajan and French director Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1965–67 changed the way orchestral music was filmed for television. Glenn Gould, who relished the pair’s “affront to the conventions of the concert hall”, particularly admired the Dvořák. It is indeed an electrifying performance by rejuvenated Berlin Philharmonic at the peak of its powers; it is also a visually stunning record of a masterclass in virtuoso conducting.

The Mozart film was the first to be made and is the least characteristic, since Clouzot chose to shoot it not in a virtual studio space but in a candles-and-mirrors rococo salon. Mirrors suggest narcissism and there something of that here. When Menuhin was re-shown the film during the making of a Bruno Monsaingeon documentary, he expressed amusement at Karajan’s affected demeanour, comparing his old friend to one of the beautiful Lipizzaner stallions in Vienna’s Spanish Riding school. Of the six films, this was the one Karajan was least liked.

The bonuses are interesting. There is a previously unseen sequence in which Karajan rehearses the strings (in English for some unexplained reason) in the opening of the Mozart’s slow movement. There is also a filmed conversation between Menuhin and Karajan, the first part of which is embarrassingly stilted and mannered as Karajan, in faltering English, attempts to explore with a somewhat sycophantic Menuhin the relationship between sound and silence in the musician’s age-old search for continuity of phrase (when Gould worked with Menuhin he scripted the conversation!). There are, however, nuggets to be mined, making this a useful addendum to the now legendary rehearsal film of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony which Clouzot made with Karajan.

The German-language conversation with Joachim Kaiser about folk elements in the New World Symphony is a tour de force. This high-speed, high-octane conversation (and it really is a conversation) about the interface between folk music and the symphony ranges far beyond Dvořák, with a fascinating array of musical, historical and wider cultural references thrown in by both parties. People often ask what Karajan was like to talk to. Here is the answer.

Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, January 2011

This is an fascinating DVD, if one thinks about these two musical personalities: Karajan, born in Salzburg, Austria to a family that had a “title”, the “von” in his name which clearly goes with an aristocratic family. Menuhin was born in New York City to parents who were intensely Zionist. The boy’s mother wanted to assure that everyone would know that he is Jewish, so she named her son “Yehudi”, which is Hebrew for “Jew”.

From a lot of recorded interviews and other sources, I got the sense that Menuhin was a person with a lot of personal charm. He explored diversity, connected with Asian music makers, was eager to learn and to teach, explored Eastern religions, and more. While I may well be biased, I have always found Karajan to be an amazing musician, yet personally aloof, taken with his own importance, and self-absorbed. In this DVD, you have these two personalities talking together and making music together.

On this DVD Herbert von Karajan conducts the Vienna Symphony with Yehudi Menuhin and the Berlin Philharmonic in works by Mozart and Dvořák. The performances include Antonín Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9 in E Minor”, and Mozart’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 5”. This footage is Menuhin and Karajan’s only recorded performance together. Also included is rehearsal footage of Karajan.

I did not like the Mozart violin concerto performance; I found it to be stiff, lacking in charm and in the lightness that Mozart intended. It came across as overly “Symphonic”. Still, this is a historic recording for the reasons mentioned above.

Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto was recorded in January 1966 at the Rosenhügel hall in Vienna with the Wiener Symphoniker and soloist Yehudi Menuhin; the film is introduced by an English-language interview that is nearly as long as the concerto. Menuhin is seen as he flatters Karajan, who never takes the bait but always brings the conversation back to practical music matters, and speaks excellent English with a bit of an accent. The concert is elaborately staged on a set oozing with chandeliers and distracting elegance…

Anne Shelley
Music Media Monthly, December 2010

KARAJAN, Herbert von: In Rehearsal and Performance – MOZART, W.A.: Violin Concerto No. 5 / DVOŘÁK, A.: Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” (NTSC) 704008
KARAJAN, Herbert von: In Rehearsal and Performance – MOZART, W.A.: Violin Concerto No. 5 / DVOŘÁK, A.: Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” (Blu-ray) 704104

When not driving Rolls Royces, flying planes, steering yachts, or defending his choice of Nazi membership, the equally celebrated and controversial Austrian conductor “Das Wunder Karajan” could be found perched in front of the world’s greatest orchestras, expertly waving curled hands that he could not see through his typically-closed eyes.

The two performances on this disc are reissues of Deutsche Grammophon laserdisc releases. The recording of the Mozart is the first of five video collaborations between Karajan and the French filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot. It is also the only known surviving footage of Karajan and violinist Yehudi Menuhin performing together. The difference in the physical surroundings of the two performances—separated by less than one year—is notable in that the variance likely reflects the evolution of the working relationship between Clouzot and Karajan, a relationship that crumbled in 1967 due to irreconcilable artistic differences. All those involved in the Mozart production are dressed to the nines and enveloped by a candlelit, pretentiously ornate ambiance. The Dvořák footage has no such distractions, with Karajan in a turtleneck and the Berlin Philharmonic in suits with mismatched ties playing in an unadorned film studio. The number of players in the Dvořák is double or triple the number for which the symphony is scored, and whether it comes as a fiery blaze from the bells of eight horns or as a hearty reprise from a sea of cellos, the recognizable motive in the fourth movement comes through loud and clear.

The black and white film is clear, even sharp, and the audio—despite isolated spots of questionable intonation—could be coming out of my Bose sound system. Karajan saw great potential in film as a medium for disseminating classical music (he even started his own film company in 1982), and several discs were recently released in honor of the centennial of his birth, so there is no shortage of interview, rehearsal, or concert footage in which Karajan is at the helm. The combination of Karajan’s insistence on perfection and Clouzot’s fluid and strategic shots make this disc a welcome reissue.

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