Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K 385, Haffner (1782) [19:56]
Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, K 482 (1785) [37:13]
Horn Concerto No. 1 in D major, K 412/514 (1791) [10:58]
Symphony No. 36 in C major, K 425, Linz (1783) [26:04]
Radek Baborak (horn)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Daniel Barenboim (piano, conductor)
rec. Estates Theatre, Prague, 1 May 2006, DDD.
Video Director: Bob Coles
Sound formats PCM Stereo, DD5.1, DTS 5.1.
Picture format NTSC 16:9 anamorphic.
Disc format: DVD 9.
Region code 0 (all regions).
EUROARTS DVD 2020208 [116:08]

On 1 May each year, the Berliner Philharmoniker gives its annual European Concert in celebration of its own birthday on 1 May 1882. It has done so since 1991 when Claudio Abbado conducted the orchestra in the Smetana Hall in Prague, and each year it gives the concert in a different European city.

Euroarts appears to have the rights to the last decade or so of these concerts (some earlier European Concerts can be found on the Arthaus label), and as they age Euroarts has been working on ways of giving them new life, either repackaging them with new documentaries (see, for example, review) or by using past European concerts to promote its catalogue.

Like Audite, which has been working its way through the live Kubelik Mahler cycle as an attraction to boost distribution of its catalogue each year, Euroarts has been selecting annually a European concert from its archives, redesigning its cover art and re-releasing it with the current year's catalogue at less than half the usual retail price. In 2009 we were offered the 2001 European Concert conducted by Mariss Jansons in Constantinople. In 2010 it was the 2004 concert with Rattle conducting Barenboim in Brahms’ First Piano Concerto in an Athenian amphitheatre.

Here we are in 2011, with the 2006 concert from Prague, which Michael Greenhalgh reviewed on its original release. Unlike previous years, though, the liner-notes have been retained. The catalogue, which hitherto has ousted the liner-notes and squeezed itself into the DVD case, sits alongside the DVD case in cardboard housing instead.

As 2006 was a Mozart anniversary year, that year's European Concert comprised Mozart’s music only and took place in the Estates Theatre, the theatrical birth place of Don Giovanni.

The programme is attractive and mildly surprising. The obvious Prague Symphony, No.38, is put aside and Don Giovanni does not raise the curtain.

Instead the concert opens with a smile-inducing performance of Mozart's Haffner, and closes with a spirited Linz. In between the symphonies, we are treated to a delightful performance of the E flat major piano concerto, K482, Barenboim directing from the keyboard. There’s also a plummy rendering of the first concerto for horn.

For me it is the piano concerto that is the highlight. Barenboim's playing is chatty, charming and at times whimsical. He achieves a lovely rapport with the orchestra, which he faces across his lidless piano, back to the audience. The second movement is hauntingly beautiful, with Barenboim almost rhapsodically flexible. The Berlin winds, offering consolation, are simply gorgeous in tone and blend.

Beside the E flat major piano concert, the first horn concerto seems slight, an impression enhanced by the remarkable ease with which the virtuosic horn writing is despatched by the Berlin Philharmonic’s principal horn.

Both symphonies are characterised by thrust and gusto in the outer movements, and warmth in the inner movements. A serious face from the podium stares at serious faces among the orchestra, but there is bluff humour in the playing. While the string section has been trimmed for this all Mozart programme, this is the only concession made to period performance orthodoxy. Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic make a robust sound at broadly traditional tempi. HIPsters may grimace, but for the rest of us the warm, joyous sound this approach engenders makes for highly enjoyable listening.

The recorded sound is warm and immediate, assisted by a sympathetic acoustic, and the direction makes generous use of multiple camera angles without becoming fussy.

The ‘bonus’ documentary is nothing more than a brief postcard of Prague and is of limited interest. I would be surprised if anyone buying this disc would consider watching it more than once, if at all.

This is a very enjoyable release and well worth snapping up at its discounted price.

Tim Perry

This is a very enjoyable release and well worth snapping up at its discounted price.