A Gala Concert from the Staatsoper Unter Der Linden, Berlin
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100
094, PAL regions 2 & 5, 55 mins, Full Price
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A reviewer should always be grateful for discs to review. In this case, however, pleasure was tempered with a degree of trepidation. Music by Nicolai, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Weill is one thing (until you hear what is being played) but a guest appearance by H K Gruber and two magicians (one named Monsieur Butterfly) is quite another. Fascination quickly led to astonishment that anyone would really want to watch this disc let alone buy it. It is the most appalling example of the misuse of the DVD format I have yet seen - and at only 55 minutes in length is disgracefully short (particularly when Arthaus are quite capable of putting three times that length on to single discs).
Across the road at the Philharmonie Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic obviously take New Year more seriously. Daniel Barenboim, intentionally or otherwise, is clearly catering for the more downmarket districts of Berlin. Gone are the traditional rows of concert seats now replaced by chairs and tables (overflowing with wine and beer bottles). Gone is the silence of a traditional concert to be replaced by chattering and laughing couples. Gone is the stillness of the audience. Welcome to downtown Berlin where couples get up and dance or are entertained by magicians.
The music making (evidently heard by those only on the stage given the bustling on the floor below - where there are almost as many waiters as guests) is decidedly mixed. The Merry Wives in Otto Nicolai's Overture are rather sadly characterised, the Dance of the Little Swans and the Waltz from Swan Lake sound tired (although given the hour that is perhaps not surprising). Most bizarre of all is the young violinist Raphael Christ performing Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. Such hair has to be seen to be believed - one almost expects a flock of birds to fly out of it. The performance is technically insecure, and he clearly looks out of place (almost, in fact, as if he should have been in bed hours ago). As does Barenboim who towards the end (specifically during Paul Lincke's Berliner Luft and Strauss's Thunder and Lightning Polka) looks drunk as he grips hold of the conductor's podium.
Still, everyone (except the orchestra) looks happy enough. If the Weill and the Kollo are suitably seedy in delivery it seems appropriate for the surroundings. This disc does have one virtue, however. It is a timely reminder as New Year approaches that if you are in Berlin try for the Philharmonie - otherwise go to a bar. Go to the Staatsoper Unter Linden and you risk being reviewed next year (although not by me). In summary: utter rubbish, I'm afraid.