Herbert von Karajan made many video productions for
his own company, Telemondial, but I don’t think he ever recorded
Berlioz’s symphony. Much of his recorded repertoire is now owned
and distributed by Sony, but not much of this has reached DVD
as yet. This EMI DVD is therefore doubly welcome as it preserves
Karajan’s interpretation of the Symphonie Fantastique, well directed
with clear sound.
The Orchestre de Paris is not, nor is likely
to become the Berlin Philharmonic, but there is no problem with
the French performance. This was made at the time when Karajan
had a relationship with France’s prime ensemble, partially as
a result of the maestro’s methods of reining in on the Berlin
Philharmonic and their contracts with DG.
The style of direction is different from the
majority of Karajan’s own productions. In these, there is an almost
narcissistic emphasis on the conductor with shots from front and
rear, and also shot over instruments as the performance progresses.
The current film reduces the frequency of shots of the conductor,
giving us much more of the activity in the orchestra. Karajan’s
interpretation of the Symphonie Fantastique is well known
from his recordings – one with the Philharmonia on EMI, and two
with the Berlin Philharmonic on DG. The playing of the French
band does not have the tonal splendour of their German competitors,
but there is more spontaneity present. A rather amusing part of
the film is the end of the last movement, when, with a rush of
adrenaline in both conductor and orchestra, Karajan’s normally
immaculate hair styling goes to pot. Throughout the rest of the
film, this immaculately fashioned hair (looks as though it is
back combed and blow-dried to make him look taller) becomes somewhat
dishevelled, and falls over his face at the close. How the mighty
The relatively coarse standard of orchestral
tone when compared with his CD recordings is most noticeable in
the third movement (Scène au champs). Although I
have noted this it is only very slightly less than perfect and
no-one should be in the least bit concerned.
The sound is in very tolerable stereo, and the
film is in colour, different from some of the other productions
in this series. Add to this a bargain price, then you have a bargain.
Not only do we have the Symphonie Fantastique
on this DVD, but we are treated to a much earlier performance
of Le Corsair, conducted by that other Berlioz specialist,
Sir John Barbirolli. This was filmed by the BBC in black and white
at a concert in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, with the platform
re-arranged to suit the film. This looks a little strange with
the orchestra set well back on the stage and an expanse of space
between conductor and ensemble.
Once again, Barbirolli’s performances of Berlioz
are reasonably well known, and this is a chance to watch conductor
and his favourite players enjoying themselves in concert. Barbirolli’s
beat is clear and decisive, and with a few minor slips the playing
is first class. On this part of the DVD, the vision is in black
and white, with mono sound.
A very enjoyable DVD, and highly recommended.