Every May Day since 1991, the Berlin Philharmonic has
given a Concert in a major city within the general European area. They
have chosen different conductors to lead these concerts, and Claudio
Abbado has given the lion's share of these.
TDK and Euro Arts have put us in their debt by making
available a series of these concerts on DVD. This one is a superb example
of the video music event. What makes a video of a concert memorable
is something to fire the imagination, to make it rise above a normal
concert. This issue does this in tremendous fashion. For May 1st 1998,
Stockholm was the city of choice, and the Vasa Museum was the venue.
What makes this special, is that the orchestra is assembled
in front of the Vasa, a fully intact sailing ship built in 1626. It
had lain undetected until it was discovered in 1953 lying in 32 metres
of water just off the Isle of Beckomen, where it had capsized and sunk
before its maiden voyage. Now it has been fully restored and forms the
centrepiece in the museum which is dedicated to the ship and its contents.
Abbado chose to open the concert with a thrilling performance
of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture, and the venue adds a strong
atmospheric enhancement to the playing, which is of the very high standard
which we have come to expect from this orchestra/conductor combination.
While it misses the level of ‘hair up the back of the neck’ effect of
Karajan at his finest it is not by much. With the ship, lit by multi
coloured lights being well used in the performance by the Director,
Bob Coles, the overall value of the experience is significantly enhanced.
We are treated to something of an Abbado party piece,
The Tempest, by Tchaikovsky. His performance is quite well known
from his CD performances of the work on Sony (Chicago SO) and DG (Berlin
PO). Judging from his facial expressions, he is certainly enjoying himself,
as are many in the orchestra. Again the backdrop of the Vasa enhances
We then hear another work recorded more than once by
Abbado – Debussy’s Three Nocturnes also on DG CDs (Boston SO
and Berlin PO). The performance gains from being live, with a few more
risks being taken than in the studio, and the Swedish choirs adding
to the performance with solid tone from fresh young voices.
The choir then comes into its own for the main work
– a performance of Verdi’s Quattro Pezzi Sacri, sung in the original
Latin. Abbado is superb in this kind of repertoire, and it rounds off
this DVD in a very satisfying way. One word of warning though – in spite
of the box saying that it contains a single sided DVD, you have to turn
it over to see the Verdi and the documentary.
The visual impact of the whole production is to a very
high standard, as is the sound quality; similarly the notes supplied
with this DVD. Congratulations to TDK, Bob Coles, the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra, Swedish Radio and Eric Ericson Choirs, Claudio Abbado, and
not least of all, the Vasa.