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Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, May 2011

French director Henri-Georges Clouzot is probably best remembered for Diabolique and Wages of Fear; but in the mid 1960s, he worked with Herbert von Karajan on a series of films for television. They created five of them before the partnership collapsed, apparently due to conflict in artistic temperament—and two of the series are offered here. Since those days, of course, concert video performances have become increasingly common, and one might therefore expect these early efforts to be on the primitive and unsophisticated side. They’re not—although, even apart from the lack of color, the mono sound, and the 4:3 aspect ratio, they are quite different from what we’re liable to get today. In particular, they’re much more patient in their video flow: Shots tend to be longer, pans slower, and images more studied. Of course, as in just about any contemporary video of an orchestral concert, the camera tends to follow the music’s primary lines. But especially in the Dvořák, you sense that Clouzot is as interested in visual composition as he is in the musical argument.

Besides offering formal aesthetic beauty, the films also remind us of the special character of the fabled chemistry between Karajan and his orchestras, especially the Berlin Philharmonic. Two points stand out in particular. First, whatever the polish of the performances, it does not come from any eye contact. Even when his eyes are open (which is not that often), Karajan is generally looking down; and in the Mozart, his detachment from Menuhin is palpable. This withdrawal into himself is, of course, part of Karajan’s mythology. Still, if you know his work primarily from audio recordings, seeing his refusal to see is quite striking: While he’s obviously a man who likes to be watched, his eyes give nothing in return. Second, whatever the emotional expressivity of the orchestra members, it is not manifest from their body language. Barenboim’s recent video of the Brahms First with today’s Berlin Philharmonic shows a group of players whose physical connection to the music is readily apparent; here, in contrast, everyone is tightly buttoned up.

Yet the performances are undeniably both polished and expressive, largely without the mannerisms that doom so many of Karajan’s later performances. Neither performance has much grit—but neither has been fully homogenized, either, and both succeed in evoking involvement as well as admiration. Granted, the Mozart is, by contemporary standards, on the ripe side, but it’s rarely gluey—and the mystical account of the slow movement is quite magical. And except in the rather heavy reading of the third movement, the vastly pumped-up ensemble in the Dvořák (horns, trumpets, and woodwinds doubled, and with an extra trombone thrown in for good measure) shows both dexterity and an astonishing level of cohesion. The slow movement is haunting without a trace of sentimentality, and we’re treated to a thrilling ride through the finale.

Visual quality is excellent, and the sound is good for the vintage. The extras include, among other things, an embarrassingly awkward conversation between Karajan and Menuhin. Not, perhaps, the year’s most vital release—but one that’s strongly recommended both for admirers of these artists and for those who have forgotten (or never knew) just how good they could be in their prime.

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.

Jeffrey Kauffman, December 2010

Mention the name Henri-Georges Clouzot to any fan of classic foreign film and you’re sure to get a dissertation on the “French Hitchcock” and his most famous films, The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques, both of which have received less than stellar American remakes. Back before M. Night Shyamalan supposedly invented the “big twist,” Clouzot was amazing audiences not just with unexpected plot turns, but perhaps more importantly with an elegant and fluid approach to staging and framing that has made his rather small output of feature films cult items for discriminating cineastes. (It’s no mere coincidence that a movie marquee in Tarantino’s recent Inglourious Basterds advertises Clouzot’s Le Corbeau). Clouzot’s brilliantly structured films fell out of favor with the looser New Wave which swept over French, and ultimately international, cinema in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, and the director was also hampered by long (inaccurate) allegations of Nazi sympathizing and, later, perhaps self-inflicted bouts of mental and physical ill health. Even some of Clouzot’s coterie of fans aren’t aware that he also directed a handful of documentaries in his life, most famously The Mystery of Picasso, an engaging 1956 portrait (no pun intended) of the famous artist which was awarded the Special Jury Prize that year at the Cannes Festival. Less well known, but certainly no less impressive, are Clouzot’s collaborations with the iconic conductor Herbert von Karajan. Von Karajan was always interested in new technologies and media, and he had long wanted to preserve his conducting for posterity on film. In the mid-1960’s Clouzot was physically incapable of working on something as arduous as a feature film (his Romy Schneider feature L’Enfer had turned out to be, a propos of its title, hell for the director and had never been completed). When von Karajan approached Clouzot with the idea of filming several performances, Clouzot may not have actually jumped at the idea, but he did in fact end up filming five von Karajan concerts, two of which are presented on this really fascinating new Blu-ray.

If the names Henri-Georges Clouzot and Herbert von Karajan aren’t enough to at least slightly pique your interest, the first performance on this Blu-ray is the only filmed collaboration between von Karajan and another titan of 20th century music, violinist Yehudi Menuhin. The two tackle Mozart’s alternately ebullient and almost vicious (something rather unusual for Mozart) Fifth Violin Concerto in A major. Filled both with the expected Mozartian lyricism, as well as some quasi-Orientalism vis a vis its supposed “Turkish” themes, this is a piece that leapfrogs huge stylistic variances in a breath. Von Karajan conducts the Vienna Philharmonic here, in what appears to be a Baroque castle parlor, replete with glass chandeliers and wall sconces aglow with lit candles. As the Blu-ray’s liner notes mention, it’s the picture perfect setting for what a classical music audience thought of as being the setting for “highbrow” art, whether or not that is actually the case.

Clouzot’s directorial flourishes throughout the Mozart are thrilling and always incredibly musical. Short but effective dollies track between Menuhin and various orchestral sections, and a variety of setups fills the screen with a really amazingly varied set of viewpoints. Clouzot gives us everything from the soundhole of Menuhin’s violin to an overhead shot taking in the scalps of the entire orchestra, conductor and soloist. In fact, I was personally curious throughout this beautifully filmed and edited piece if it had been through-played, or stopped and started as various new setups were accomplished. Alas, there appears to be no existing information on how exactly either this or the Dvořák also included on this Blu-ray were actually filmed. This is a thrilling performance in any event, and it’s a remarkable achievement whether it was stopped and started or played straight through with the cameras moving to and fro.

The second film included here is of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” in E minor. Probably the most famous orchestral piece in Dvořák’s oeuvre (a shame, in my not so humble opinion), Dvořák’s piece is famous for its utilization of folktunes, or at least quasi-folktunes, but it also owes an enormous debt to the most famous ninth symphony of all, Beethoven’s. Here von Karajan directs the Berlin Philharmonic in an elegantly balanced and at times ferocious interpretation. Clouzot’s directorial genius shines through again, with a variety of languid crossfades which help establish the dialogue between orchestral sections. Again we get bird’s eye views of the orchestra, but Clouzot is even more daring here, with huge swooping shots that hone in on individual players who are enjoying a moment’s solo.

Unfortunately the relationship between Clouzot and von Karajan deteriorated shortly after these performances were filmed, and the two were unable to continue working together. Von Karajan is remarkably subdued in these performances, sometimes barely moving at all, but behind the scenes (as is shown in the supplements discussed below), he could obviously be a bit of a pill to endure. Whether or not that had anything to do with this collaboration ultimately failing is anyone’s guess, but it is a real shame for posterity that more of these gems weren’t captured on film. Those of us who like classical music and are becoming more and more used to concerts being taped for broadcast or even released in all their hi-def splendor on Blu-ray need to recall that it was the nascent efforts of people like von Karajan and Clouzot, no matter what their eventual differences, that paved the way for current releases. Unitel is to be commended for having produced these pieces to begin with in the mid-1960’s and for the releasing them now for a new generation to enjoy.

Video Quality

These two performances arrive on Blu-ray with very, very nice looking AVC encoded transfers in 1080i and 1.34:1. Filmed in black and white, but with Clouzot’s eye for chiaroscuro, lighting detail and very intelligent editing mean these “mere” performances have a filmic sweep unlike anything I’ve personally witnessed. Best of all, after some minor damage on the title cards, the films themselves look splendid, with gorgeous contrast, coal-black darks and wonderfully modulated grays and whites. In fact, I wish some of the classic black and white films we’ve had released on Blu-ray sported this sharp and well defined of an image. Fine detail is exceptional, to the point where you can actually see inside Menuhin’s violin through the soundhole during some extreme closeups.

Audio Quality

Unitel has done a superb job delivering a nicely precise lossless LPCM 2.0 mix for the music performances. There is in fact only one thing to really complain about, and I’m certain it’s due to the original microphone placement at these filming sessions, namely, Menuhin’s solo violin is sometimes buried in the orchestral mass when it really should be blazing out in front. Other than that passing qualm, these are deep, rich and expressive performances which have evidently been very well preserved and make it onto hi-def audio with wonderful fidelity and no noticeable damage to report. Dynamic range is excpeptional, and we’re treated to both glorious highs and lows on the frequency spectrum here, with no cutoffs or dropouts.

Special Features and Extras

Though they’re not billed as supplements, and in fact follow the concerts with no segue, there are two really fascinating interviews included, part of what was evidently a television special series von Karajan participated in called The Art of Conducting. The first interview finds von Karajan at the piano with Menuhin standing next to him, as the two discuss Mozart in particular and conducting and violin playing in general. We then get basically a brief Master Class in conducting as von Karajan works with the string section of the Vienna Philharmonic on just the first phrase (!) of the Concerto. Watch as von Karajan gently (well, kind of) demands different techniques from the players, asking for notes to be played on open strings, and then fingered, to hear the difference. Amazing stuff. The second, briefer, interview is with a musicologist and professor named Joachim Kaiser which centers around Dvořák, folksong and the Ninth Symphony. The first interview is in (sometimes halting) English, the second in German with optional English subtitles.

Overall Score and Recommendation

No, the concertmaster does not stand up and murder Menuhin in this Clouzot directed performance (though one wonders if he wanted to murder von Karajan). Of course I jest, but the real “twist” of these incredible performances is that they’ve been gathering dust in some archive for over 40 years. What an incredible pleasure to not only hear such impeccable interpretations, but to see these performances under the inspired directorial “conducting” of Clouzot. This is a must have (or at least a should have) Blu-ray for anyone with even a passing interest in either French cinema or classical music. Very highly recommended.

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.

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, November 2010

The great conductor Herbert Von Karajan and equally great, key violinist Yehudi Menuhin were recorded performing together in an exceptional performance from 1966 that was not only issued as an album, but shot on film. This record has survived and very well. Herbert Von Karajan In Rehearsal & Performance is roughly the title, as we see the many give us his interpretations of Mozart and Dvořák. The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital black and white High Definition image on the Karajan Blu-ray is the oldest material here and one of the oldest Naxos has veer sent us, yet it looks as good and better than just about all the HD shoots we have covered from them on Blu-ray over the years with this footage shot in 35mm for French Television by the legendary director Henri-Georges Clouzot (Les Diabolique, Wages Of Fear) who was a good friend and collaborator. The main concerts are here in PCM 2.0 Stereo and extras documentary programs remain in mono, again in PCM 2.0 and they are all compelling to see.

Clouzot and Karajan made five films together before they could not work together because their ideas started to drift apart. The Mozart film from 1965 is the only surviving performance of Karajan and Menuhin performing. One of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony from 1965, one of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in 1966 and one of Verdi’s Requiem from 1967 are not here. However, we also get two bonus films by Clouzot: Karajan in conversation with Menuhin on Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and Karajan in conversation with Professor Joachim Kaiser on Dvorak’s Symphony No.5 from 1966. This is a great Blu-ray and so much filmed classical material is in the vaults waiting to be restored and released. I hope this disc causes a new cycle to occur.

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