> European Concert 1995 [JP]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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European Concert 1995
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
(1770 - 1832)

Fidelio Overture, Op. 72b - (1814)
Boris BLACHER (1903 – 1975)

Orchestral Variations on a Theme by Paganini Op. 26 (1947)
Nicolo PAGANINI (1782 – 1840)

Violin Concerto No 1 in D Major, Op. 6 (1815) – (1st movement only)
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 – 1971)

Petrushka Burlesque in 4 scenes. (1947)
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841 – 1904)

Slavonic Dance Op. 46, No. 8 (1878)
Sarah Chang - violin, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta.
recorded in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, 1st May 1995. Video directed by Brian Large.
TDK DVD – EUC95 [87 minutes (programme) + 20 minutes (documentary)]


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This is the 1995 May Day Concert given by the Berlin Philharmonic in Florence in 1995. The venue is the superb Palazzo Vecchio which has murals covering the entire wall area, Much is made of these throughout the DVD.

Brian Large, the director, is a stalwart of this series of DVDs and we have the usual imaginative camera work and deeply impressive sound to enhance our pleasure, incidentally shared by the audience sitting in the hall.

The only problem about a recording such as this is who would want to buy it. Of course, if you were there, you might buy it as a memento of the day. But what about the rest of us? My usual counter to this, is to say that seeing the orchestra playing the type of repertoire that is played at these concerts, is no hardship, such is the artistry of the players.

This is the first of these recordings which includes an incomplete work. It is quite strange to have only the first movement of the Paganini. I can’t imagine that Sarah Chang went all that way just to play one movement of a concerto. Nothing is mentioned in the notes about the rest of the work, and there is no apparent editing of sound and vision to make me assume that the remainder of the concerto was played but not presented on the DVD for some reason.

The concert starts with a performance of the Fidelio overture; the only item which is of a lower standard than the rest. This was no doubt due to the fact that the orchestra were warming up, as about two thirds through the overture, the standard of the playing, and the alertness of the players improves noticeably.

We then move on to the Boris Blacher work, which is an attractive orchestral showpiece based upon the same Paganini caprice that also inspired other composers such as Brahms and Rachmaninov. The work consists of a series of sixteen variations on the beginning of the theme.

The Paganini connection is continued by Sarah Chang playing the first movement of the 1st Violin Concerto, the connection being reinforced by the hall, within which is a collection of violins and other stringed instruments made by Guarneri, Amati and Stradivarius. These were originally made for the Medici family who had the hall made for them. The collection of stringed instruments is not open to the public, but in the documentary which is on this DVD, we are treated to a guided tour.

The concert ends with a stunning performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka. The collective virtuosity of the players is never in doubt. For the encore we are treated to a Slavonic Dance by Dvořák, and whilst we do listen in vain for the rustic qualities of an orchestra like the Czech Philharmonic, the élan of the playing is stunning.

This presents an excellent video and sound production and the picture format is 16:9, unlike many of the other DVDs in this series which are 4:3. The sound quality is fine. The acoustic must have been quite difficult in the venue with its ‘shoebox’ shape and hard reflective walls. The recording team has done a wonderful job. I enjoyed this production immensely.

John Phillips

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