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Europa-Konzert from Lisbon: 2003
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)

Le Tombeau de Couperin (1920)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)

Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor K466 (1785)
Béla BARTÓK (1881 – 1945)

Concerto for Orchestra (1943)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)

Fêtes from Trois Nocturnes (1900)
Maria João Pires (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Boulez.
recorded in the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Lisbon 1st May, 2003
Video directed by Bob Coles.
Euroarts DVD 2053079 [120:00]

This DVD shows why this medium is perfect for this kind of event. Too often, music DVDs are made of concert performances of the major classics and these can be sterile with little or no atmosphere. In these May Day Concerts, given annually by the Berlin Philharmonic under a chosen conductor, we have the advantage of a warts-and-all concert, often of varied repertoire. Rarely is there a unifying theme: what we get, almost consistently, is an excellent concert in very good sound with an exceptionally interesting backdrop.

For the 2003 concert, Lisbon was the chosen city, and who better to partner the orchestra than Maria João Pires, working with the conductor Pierre Boulez.

This DVD is features imaginative camera work and superb sound to enhance our pleasure. This, incidentally, is shared by the audience who, I am sure did not hear the concert as well as we are allowed to on this DVD. This is because of the cavernous acoustic of the enormous building, complete with beautiful pillars and a superb ceiling, all of which are used to full effect by Bob Coles. It must have been a nightmare to obtain sound that reflected the location, but did not get lost in substantial echo.

The Berlin Philharmonic, now with many new personnel, due no doubt to Simon Rattle, although still retaining first oboe and piccolo and a few other players, is not as assured as it has been in previous years, but I am sure that this will change as they get used to working together.

Pierre Boulez, now the grand old man of the French musical scene, seems to get better as the years go by. The use of hands-only in his conducting does not seem to cause any problems with the orchestra, and he continues to give a superlative performance of his compatriot’s music. The Ravel is a model of how the piece should go, with rhythms natural and unforced and with the woodwind and strings perfectly balanced. As most of the score is relatively lightweight the cavernous acoustic is not a problem.

Maria João Pires joins the orchestra for a superlative performance of one of Mozart’s revolutionary piano concerti, and the orchestra is inspired to give of their best by such musicianship. I am not sure who wrote the cadenzas. I have not heard these before and there is no indication in the notes as to their source.

After the interval, Boulez returns to conduct a stunning performance of Bartók’s masterpiece. It is here that the orchestra sound a little stretched which is not helped by the acoustic. The sound rolls around the building and the quality coming out of the speakers is fantastically exciting if you like a cathedral-like acoustic. Some critics would get out of their prams with this kind of sound quality, but I for one enjoyed it immensely. It all adds to the experience.

This trombone glissandos in the fourth movement sound decidedly approximate and the rushing strings at the beginning of the last movement are only just negotiated. I can’t imagine this happening under Abbado.

Boulez then returns and introduces the encore – Fêtes from Trois Nocturnes of Debussy – very much a party piece for the conductor.

I expect that the 16th Century building has rarely hosted music-making of this standard. I can heartily recommend this richly enjoyable DVD.

John Phillips


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