Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943) Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor (1909) [44:08]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Le Sacre du printemps (1911-13) [43:03]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) The Nutcracker: Overture; The Christmas Tree; March; Pas de deux (1891-2) [16:49]
Yefim Bronfman (piano)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. live, Waldbühne, Berlin, 21 June 2009
EUROARTS BLU-RAY DVD 2057754 [104:00]

I played this new Blu-ray DVD on a 42-inch plasma Panasonic HD TV with matching Panasonic Blu-ray DVD player; I listened to the audio through the TV speakers, then through my Harbeth external speakers and then through my BOSE headphones.

First, the vision: amazing colour and definition. The tracking shots over the Waldbühne audience showed the people in distinct relief; proving that 3D TV is just a nod away – that is if 3D is really necessary now? Passing shots across the orchestra are equally revealing in that the music seen over performers’ shoulders is quite clear and often easily readable. The audio is equally impressive: all the instruments harmonics are crystal clear, the Philharmoniker’s strings’ silken sheen and the subtleties of the horns can be enjoyed to the full. While I am not one to think I need visuals to enjoy a concert - I often close my eyes in a concert hall - I do appreciate the opportunity to learn and appreciate the composers’ orchestrations. I am thinking here, especially, of the Stravinsky; it is, for me, instructive to note how he uses the woodwinds to such striking effect.

To the music. It is interesting to note how things have changed at the Berliner Philharmoniker since the departure of Karajan who as the album’s notes-writer, Wolfgang Stähr, observes “was a master of the extreme legato with little appreciation of the constant changes of time signature and complex metres of Stravinsky’s score”. Conversely, Rattle is “in his element with Stravinsky’s Russian rhythms.” This is indeed a winning and revealing performance with Rattle fully in command of this exciting music.

Tchaikovsky’s lovely ballet music for The Nutcracker forms a welcome relief to all Stravinsky’s barbaric utterances. The main item on the programme is the daunting Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Stähr’s notes include a rather unflattering comment about the soloist Yefim Bronfman made by the American writer, Philip Roth, which I will not repeat here. Bronfman is a thick-set gentleman who attacks this music, bear-like, with spirit and tenacity. That does not mean to say that his playing lacks delicacy. He is articulate and he generates much excitement particularly in that emotionally-charged finale but in the end there is something missing, a lack of expressive involvement. For a truly committed performance of this work turn to Horowitz or Argerich.

A rich concert-hall experience.

Ian Lace

A rich concert-hall experience.