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, although it
is true that Claudio Abbado has given the lion's share of these. Every
concert is broadcast throughout the EU countries via the European Broadcasting
Union, and it is to the BBC's eternal shame that year after year, these
concerts have not been taken up. Viewers have been denied the chance
to see concerts which not only are artistically of a very high standard,
but also have a mini travelogue of the city in which the orchestra is
performing. In case you think that the BBC are boycotting the Berlin
Philharmonic, they also refuse to show the annual Christmas Concerts
from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Whatever the reason the end result
is that those of us in the UK are denied these cultural gems. They couldn’t
even be bothered when London was the chosen city, with Bernard Haitink
giving the Rite of Spring!
Hooray for Euro Arts for therefore making available
a series of these concerts on DVD, also including an extended travelogue
and with additional notes included. The present disc is a clear winner,
and anyone buying it will have joys in store for them.
For May 1st 2001, Istanbul was the city of choice,
and Mariss Jansons was engaged as the conductor. The programme is fairly
middle of the road, but none the worse for that. Here we have performances
of three classical works, although the third, Berlioz's Symphonie
Fantastique, straddles classical and early romantic.
Dealing with the programme in order of performance,
we kick off with the Haydn Surprise Symphony. In this performance,
Jansons has obviously been studying period performance techniques. Many
will be quite surprised to hear the way in which the Berlin Philharmonic
sounds. This is the orchestra of the lush, romantic sounds with which
we associate them from the Karajan days. Here we have light, bright
textures, relatively fast speeds and a phrasing which would have old
Karajan turning in his grave. The only disadvantage of these fast speeds
is that in the temperature of Istanbul, Mariss Jansons's perspiration
rate and volume is none too comfortable to watch.
We then move to Emmanuel Pahud, whose artistry on the
flute is well known. He gives a bright forthright performance of Mozart's
second Flute Concerto, and the orchestra provide just the right kind
of accompaniment, very much in tune with their illustrious soloist.
The orchestra here is reduced in size (to about half its complement),
and clearly they were enjoying the playing as much as the generally
silent and appreciative audience.
The main work requires the whole orchestra on the platform,
and the performance is similar to the one already recorded for EMI by
Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw for EMI. Jansons's leadership of
the orchestra is such that for long stretches of time, they are playing
like demons, from the edge of their seats. Here we have an extremely
dynamic performance full of sweep and passion, supported and enhanced
by the striking backdrop of the St. Irene Church, the oldest church
in Istanbul. This early Christian building, austere in the extreme,
with walls of exposed stonework, quite unlike churches many of us would
normally be used to, was built in the fourth century, after its predecessor
had been destroyed in 740.
The visual impact of the whole production is to a very
high standard, as is the sound quality, and also the notes supplied
with this DVD. At last we can see what the BBC has been holding back
over the years - shame on them, and all congratulations to Euro Arts,
the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Emmanuel Pahud, and Mariss Jansons.