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Václav Neumann in rehearsal
Bedrich SMETANA Overture – The Bartered Bride
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Overture – Leonora No.3
Filmed in Stuttgart, 1968/1969.
Picture format 4:3. B&W, mono sound.
Directed by Dieter Ertl.
Subtitle languages: English, German, French, Spanish
There is much to fascinate here, whether the general
music-lover, the specialist or even conductors themselves,
though equally there is as much to frustrate.
As I have pointed out in my review elsewhere on this
site of the EMI DVD Legendary British Performers,
the TV presentation back in the 1960s and 1970s was often
dreadful. But we must be thankful for this archival material.
Neumann (1920-1995) was a renowned and respected Czech conductor,
formerly a viola player, who had a more than decent career
in East Germany until the Russian invasion of his homeland
in 1968. At that point he returned to his native country
as principal conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, worked
much in Germany and Austria, and - like fellow Czech Rafael
Kubelik - lived long enough to witness the end of communism
though by then both men had retired through ill-health.
These rehearsals seem to have been fairly certainly ‘scripted’;
there’s a lot of excessive talk, eliciting no response from
glum (mostly) men. It’s all hugely disciplined, the whole
band downing instruments as one whenever Neumann has something
he wants to say, or he wants to tell his ‘audience’ in his
quaint German. These days one can’t really get away with
telling an orchestra the story of Fidelio or the Bartered
Bride, to put any given moment of either overture into
context. Mind you he manages to make a political comment
on Florestan’s struggle against the mighty Pizarro, alluding
in allegorical terms to a plus ça change situation
in the 1968 present-day but reaction continues to remain
The television direction has a habit of either overstaying
its welcome on a player - none of them photogenic, all of
them glum - or a section, or of just being in the wrong place.
Only in the concert performance do we see Neumann bring off
the awkward tempo change for the strings at the final Allegro.
He is extremely tactful in praising his players, so much
so that one wonders why he has therefore stopped, raising
suspicions of wanting to say something despite the playing
not because of it, always risky and bound to produce more
glum faces of course.
Neumann was not the most graceful of conductors but
he knew what he wanted and, on the evidence of the performances
which conclude each sequence of this fascinating DVD, he
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