> DVD - European Concert 1998 [JP]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
The Flying Dutchman – Overture (1843)
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)

The Tempest, Op. 18 (1873)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)

Three Nocturnes (1900)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)

Quattro Pezzi Sacri (1898)
Swedish Radio Choir and Eric Ericson Chamber Choir (Debussy and Verdi)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,
conducted by Claudio Abbado.
recorded in the Vasa Museum, Stockholm, 1st May, 1998.
Video directed by Bob Coles.
TDK DVD - STOCK [99 minutes (main programme) + 19 minutes documentary]


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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 the experience.

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.

John Phillips

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