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 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 These were originally made for the Medici family who had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
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.