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Sir Roger Norrington in Rehearsal
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Symphony No.39 in E flat K543 (1788)

Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart/Sir Roger Norrington
Recorded at the Schwetzingen Festspiele, 1996
PCM Stereo: NTSC: Aspect Ratio 4:3
Language: mainly English but see review:
Menu Languages: D, F, GB, SP:
Subtitle Languages: D, F, SP:
Released 2005
ARTHAUS MUSIC 101 070 [60:00]:


Since DVDs are never technically consistent let me first dispose of those issues. The stereo sound, that is the only choice, is perfectly listenable; the 4/3 picture is perfectly watchable and the camera work unfussy. There is no option for English subtitles on this disc and all visual titles are in German. Since Norrington rehearses in English – a tribute to the German orchestra’s multi-lingualism – this is not a problem. It is typical of German television (SDR here) that the performers are allowed to speak for themselves. There is no narrative, in fact no extraneous commentary at all. One wishes the BBC Proms coverage was similarly dedicated to music and music-making instead of to the posturings of the pseudo-popularisers. There is talk (and oddly no applause) at the end of the performance – just credits. Which is also very refreshing after yet another season of BBC babble. On the down-side there are no extras – just the rehearsal and the performance. The notes by Tillmann Klein set out an interesting and convincing theory that the final three symphonies intentionally emulate the six Paris symphonies of Haydn. He suggests that Mozart was planning to publish them as a set in an attempt to raise his public reputation and thus help him to get a salary rise as court composer. Klein makes it clear that there is no explicit evidence for his suggestion but it is a nice thesis.

Norrington is here trying to turn his orchestra into a period band thus a lot of rehearsal time, in a very democratic atmosphere, is dedicated to dynamic moulding of Mozart’s symphony. It is interesting even to a non-player like myself, how his detailed rehearsing changes the sound. The players of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra have worked with Norrington for many years and even by the time of this nine year old film had become adept at playing without vibrato. I enjoyed the way in the third movement that he enlivened the whole sound by much encouragement of the clarinets and of the second violins. Norrington’s encouragement often takes the form of singing along. Similarly in the fourth movement he characterises the stresses on the appoggiaturas as "carrot-juice", "carrot-juice" and then holds up his half drunk bottle of carrot juice to emphasise the point.

During the performance one can see that a lot of the conducting gestures are directed at reminding the orchestra of points made during rehearsals where all the real work was done. One can see knowing smiles among the musicians as they remember the points made. In an informative contrast the orchestra watches the score during the performance but Norrington during the rehearsal. There is not much sign of an audience in this small auditorium though they are there. As a result the camera roams freely around the orchestra during the performance whereas it had focused largely on Norrington during the rehearsal.

Purchasers interested primarily in the performance of the E flat symphony can be reassured that since Norrington has a clear idea of the ebb and flow of the work and the orchestra is very responsive, no viewer is liable to get bored. It is all very enjoyable.

David Billinge



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