What an occasion this
must have been! The huge Herodes Atticus
Odeon is packed to the rafters - if
it had any; it is open-air. A hyper-scenic
setting for this Brahmsfest.
is a long one. He recorded the Brahms
First with Barbirolli, Philips Great
Pianists of the Twentieth Century, 456
721-2. There remains something remarkably
and infectiously youthful about him,
despite the now-grey hair. This comes
through his playing, too – at least
live. Perhaps Rattles’ energy – and
there is lots – has something to do
with it. The opening tutti was driven,
highly dramatic - plenty of shots of
Rattle’s characteristic facial expressions.
Yet Rattle also is able to give and
take according to the Brahmsian swells.
From the piano’s first
entrance it seems evident that soloist
and conductor are in interpretative
accord. Barenboim is capable of great
delicacy, and his voice-leading - of
paramount importance in Brahms - is
exemplary. Watching him, it is remarkable
how easy he makes the technical challenges
seem. Equally remarkable is the depth
of sound he conjures from his Steinway
to evoke truly Brahmsian tonal richness.
It seems all there, from the attention
to detail to the overall picture of
this huge first movement. The only blot
on the landscape comes right at the
end, a surprising (in context) rush
to the finishing post as they get carried
away in the ‘liveness’ of the occasion.
As the slow movement
begins, the viewer is treated to a nice
hot of the Parthenon atop its hill before
the cameras pass around to give an aerial
shot of the orchestra and then suddenly
(too suddenly) close in on the horns.
Rattle’s tempo is perfect – slow but
not overly so. The recorded sound has
the required depth and is nicely balanced.
Barenboim brings huge
concentration to this movement, although
his tone appears a little light at times.
Nevertheless, this is absolutely lovely,
a reading shot-through with understanding.
Barenboim opts for
maximum tonal contrast for the finale.
Using a remarkably hard touch (note
his high right hand for his staccati
– way above the keyboard), he gives
a reading that can on occasion impetuously
rush forward. Rattle clearly enjoys
himself, and Barenboim raises his game
to make even this hardened reviewer
ponder that this is pianism verging
on greatness. The chordal exchanges
with the orchestra at the close are
positively huge from the piano. Roses
all round at the end, and deservedly
Rattle has acted as
something of a champion of the Brahms/Schoenberg
Piano Quartet, having recorded it for
EMI with his beloved CBSO (originally
LP EL270169-1). Certainly played like
this with the Berliners, there is no
space for any doubt about the musical
truth of the arrangement. The orchestral
sound is not only warm but clear (everything
is audible); no small achievement. As
far as the recording itself is concerned,
imaging is excellent. The camera-work
is ‘traditional’ - following the soloist
of the moment etc - and is certainly
unobtrusive. Interesting that Rattle
points out the parallels with the First
Symphony’s first movement.
The uneasily shifting
Intermezzo - superb woodwind contributions
- seems a clear statement that the dark
shadows of the first movement extend
to here, too. The quicksilver end is
The slow movement will
be familiar to all that buy this disc.
By which I mean that it is used as background
music to the main menu. I have heard
other critics complain about this in
the past and until now have not really
minded, but in this case I did find
that irritating. Still, in context this
works beautifully. The Berliner Philharmoniker’s
string sound is huge; the return of
the opening melody on oboe towards the
close of the movement is like a ray
of Athenian sunshine.
Finally, the ‘Rondo
alla zingarese’, is given with real
guts and gusto. The excellence of the
recording is once more brought into
focus by the fine cymbals. Rattle enjoys
the ritardandi as he would in a Brahms
Hungarian Dance, and the solo strings
enjoy their moment of fame towards the
A superb DVD, and one
of the best orchestral DVDs I have yet
seen. Rattle is clearly doing wonderful
things in Berlin – and Athens, come
to that. The ‘extra’ film (in German
with subtitles) begins with Greek pop
music and shots of the sun setting over
the Acropolis, juxtaposing this with
scenes of the notorious Athenian traffic.
The venue is discussed, as of course
is the Athens Olympics; it almost seems
like an advert at times. All this is
followed by a brief history of the Europa
Concert and the venues it has graced.
But it is not for the filler you will
be buying this. Enjoy the concert!.