Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Concerto for violin, piano, and cello, Op 56 (1804) (35.02)
Fantasy for piano, chorus, and orchestra, Op 80 (1808) (19.32)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Berlin State Opera Choir; Ernst Stoy, chorus director
Itzhak Perlman, violin; Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Daniel Barenboim, piano, and conductor
Recorded at Philharmonie Hall, Berlin, February 1995
PAL 4:3 Colour No region code. Disk format: DVD-5
EMI DVD 7243 4 91473 3 [59.00]


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What makes the Triple Concerto virtually unique in Beethoven’s output is that here he forsook monumentalism and attempted to achieve grace and lightness*. I do not know of any performance ever by either Toscanini or Klemperer. Hence the Triple Concerto remains a work to be enjoyed when most of Beethoven has become tiresome through endless repetition.

When I saw the cover of this DVD I expected it to be the best performance of the work I’d ever heard, and I wasn’t disappointed. There were two concerns, however. One is that I’d never seen Itzhak Perlman live in concert before and the spectacle of this incredible musician staggering onstage on crutches, painfully adjusting himself into a chair, and then so carefully laying down his crutches so as not to annoy anyone with the noise of them banging on the stage left me with a lump in my throat that didn’t go away until the end of the first movement. Second, this sound is something that we record collectors aren’t used to: this is the real thing, full concert hall dynamic range. Adjust the volume so that the opening applause is just over the threshold of pain and you’ll have it about right. If you listen through earphones, be very careful not to adjust the volume for the first notes of the bass strings, or after the full orchestra comes in you won’t be able to hear anything at all for a few days. The sound track is in two track stereo, period. Turn off your surround sound decoder; it won’t add anything and may detract.

That Perlman and Barenboim have made distinguished—nay, superlative!—recordings of the Beethoven solo concerti would be expected to suit them perfectly to collaborate on this work. Yo-Yo Ma has recorded this work before with Mutter and Zeltzer, and that was a fine recording also. Yo-Yo Ma has become, in our age, the Liszt, the Paganini of the cello, even within the memory of musicians of the calibre of Rostropovich. Beyond this, I must leave off heaping superlatives at the feet of these magnificent artists whose skill and artistry are so well known.

At first I thought I would have preferred to hear the soloists more up-front in the sound, but finally realised the balance is actually perfect. They blend their sound completely with each other and with the orchestra, emerging just when they should and only as much as they should. Barenboim discharges his conductorial duties cleanly while playing his part from memory, and the orchestra plays with emotion and precision, with tremendous beauty of sound. Tempi are on the fast side but never sound rushed, even in the wondrous excitement of the final passages. There is much lyrical beauty in the slow movement and just the required graceful swing in the finale. In a good performance of the last movement of this work you should think you hear castanets, and they were there.

The video image is extremely clear, this being from a video, not a film, production. We are shown members of the orchestra playing throughout. We don’t get sparkly lighting effects, out-of-focus smears, or video clips of birds or flowers or sunsets. One is reminded that an orchestra consists of a lot of individual players, each with something going through his or her mind that may at the moment have little to do with our perception of the music. Some may find this distracting but that is the way it is. The video director seems to have a crush on the two pretty girls in the string section, but that’s OK, we have plenty of good looking guys and ugly old men to look at, too. These are people earning their living by working very hard. During the 30 years when I was working to earn my modest retirement check as an accountant and engineer for a local electricity board, I never once at work had to stop and wipe the sweat out of my eyes, nor was there ever a time when 5000 people were watching me work, nor did I ever have a television camera in my face. They deserve to get paid a lot more than I did.

I will still enjoy my previous all-time favourite recording, a Soviet LP of Oistrakh, Oborin, and Knushevitsky with Golovanov conducting the Moscow Radio Symphony, telephone quality sound and all. But I won’t listen to it quite so often now.

If anything can ever convince you that the Choral Fantasy is a decent piece of music, this performance will. Yes, we still have those passages near the beginning where Beethoven demonstrates the astonishing banality of his variation technique. If you or I wrote that music we’d barely get a C+ from any reputable conservatory. But things pick up rapidly after that. The singing is extravagantly sensual, Barenboim’s playing and the orchestra’s response to him are explosively exciting. When the full chorus comes in any attempt to remain unmoved will be futile.

I remember we used to talk about something called "brand loyalty," something that’s considered very, very out of date now. But one cannot help but notice the consistent high quality of EMI music videos and it is only good science to observe that somebody there really knows what he or she is doing. Keep it up, EMI. You’ve earned my vote.

The sound track of this recording is also available on an EMI CD 7243 5 55516 2 7. But don’t expect that to be as good as the DVD.

*Another Beethoven work of this nature is the "Spring Sonata," also for violin.

Paul Shoemaker

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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