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Salzburg Opening Concert - 2010
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 (1806) [37:13]
Pierre BOULEZ (b. 1925)
Notations for orchestra (1978/1984/1997) [20:40]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Te Deum (1881-1884) [23:07]
Dorothea Röschmann (soprano)
Elina Garanča (mezzo)
Klaus-Florian Vogt (tenor)
René Pape (bass)
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor/Thomas Lang
Wiener Philharmoniker/Daniel Barenboim
rec. live, Salzburg Festival, Austria, 2010
Video director: Michael Beyer
Picture format: 1080p/16:9
Sound format: PCM stereo; DTS HD Master Audio 5.0
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: LAT/E/G/F/SP/JAP/KOR/CH
C MAJOR 706904 [85:00]

Experience Classicsonline

The blurb on this Blu-ray trumpets the significance of this concert; not only does it mark the 90th anniversary of the Salzburg Festival, it also commemorates 50 years of the city’s Großes Festspielhaus. And as performers go, this is as stellar as it gets, with Daniel Barenboim leading the Viennese orchestra and choirs in a varied programme of Beethoven, Boulez and Bruckner. His long line of Beethoven recordings – starting with that classic EMI set of concertos with Otto Klemperer – is the stuff of legends, so chances are we’re in for a treat with this new rendition of the G major concerto. The Boulez may be less appealing, but the real draw for me is Bruckner’s mighty Te Deum, which Barenboim has also recorded before (DG).

Recently I reviewed a Blu-ray featuring Martha Argerich at the 2010 Verbier Festival, and generally welcomed her playing of this Beethoven concerto. First impressions of Barenboim – who directs from the keyboard – are somewhat disappointing. Where the Swiss band brings a jovial air to the first movement the Viennese seem rather dour and foursquare. True, there’s some characterful woodwind playing in the extended orchestral introduction and Barenboim is fluent enough, but this remains a curiously staid, rather airless, performance.

Part of the problem lies with the recording. Selecting PCM stereo from the options menu results in a narrow, boxy sound reminiscent of radio broadcasts from the 1960s. Switching over to DTS Master Audio 5.0 – mixed down to stereo by my Sony player – makes a huge difference; suddenly, the soundstage opens out and there’s far more body and detail. This is very odd indeed, but as Euroarts’ unhappy experiences with Claudio Abbado’s Mahler cycle and Dave Billinge’s appendix to my review of Antoni Wit’s Mahler 8 confirm, there are persistent – and worrying – problems with these Blu-rays that really must be addressed.

On first acquaintance this Salzburg disc falls well below the high sonic standards set elsewhere, the piano’s lower register and the tuttis in the Beethoven surprisingly ill-defined. Indeed, as I’ve noticed on other Blu-rays there’s a ‘processed’ quality to the sound that I’ve not encountered on DVDs. While the picture is supposed to be high-definition 1080p, it’s softer than other Blu-rays I’ve seen; skin tones aren’t very natural and contrasts are less striking than usual. Not a huge issue for some, perhaps, but as the format’s USP is superior pictures and sound this just won’t do.

Back to the music, and the Andante seems very self-indulgent, the camera focusing a little too cruelly on Barenboim’s old hands and apoplectic colouring. The camerawork – like the miking – is unflattering in its closeness with the players huddled awkwardly around the piano. I’m afraid there’s little to enjoy here. The Rondo is hectoring rather than vivacious; as for the playing of orchestra and soloist, it’s fitful and charmless. Indeed, there’s something old-fashioned about this performance that hardly seems appropriate for this important double celebration.

At least the liberating textures of the Boulez should come as a relief. And so it proves; the well-lit stage, players looking a lot more animated, is a good visual metaphor for this splendid performance of Notations. The oft-revised work – originally written for piano – continues the distinguished tradition of French music from Claude Debussy to Olivier Messiaen. The almost-Impressionist colours of Modéré – Fantasque and Trés modéré (I and III) are beautifully realized with the stopped brass and assorted percussion being very well caught. Goodness, it’s hard to believe this airy, detailed sound is part of the same concert. Movement IV, Rhythmique, always reminds me of Messiaen – La Transfiguration in particular – while Hiératique, added in 1997, is full of imagination and flair. Barenboim, flicking through a sail-sized score, chooses to end with the aptly named Strident, which is superbly played and recorded.

Oh, what a change from that suffocating opener, although the applause is perhaps more respectful than enthusiastic. Buoyed by this terrific performance I had high hopes for the Te Deum, helped by the presence of fine soloists and choirs. I’ve always felt this is one of Bruckner’s very greatest creations, every bit as inspiring as his late symphonies. I well remember Herbert von Karajan’s thrilling account on LP and his visually austere – and rather gloomy – filmed version on VHS; but one of the most enduring and desirable performances on CD must be Bernard Haitink’s incandescent version, also with the Wiener Philharmoniker and first-rate soloists (Philips).

With the latter firmly in mind I did wonder how Barenboim would compare. Well, I needn’t have fretted, for the opening is as rafter-raising as ever. The soundstage is deep and wide, the choral singing wonderfully incisive. The soloists are well blended, and one marvels anew at how Bruckner structures this huge edifice. The mood is now fearful, now fervent. How he builds unerringly to those vaulting climaxes rendering the hushed ‘holies’ a tingling precursor to yet another blaze of sound. As for the Viennese brass, they’re in splendid form throughout.

Klaus-Florian Vogt is somewhat soft-toned in the ‘Te ergo’, but he’s always firm and ardent. The quartet sings with quiet radiance here and the ensuing trombone postlude more affecting than usual. Indeed, one hears a lot of telling detail that’s often lost in a wall of sound. The plucked basses are especially audible, as is the rasp of deep brass. Just listen to those fire-breathing timps in the ‘Aeterna fac’, adding awesome weight and momentum to the choirs’ stratospheric singing. Really, Bruckner doesn’t get much better than this, and one senses Barenboim knows just how to shape and pace this music for maximum effect, both musical and emotional.

Röschmann and Garanča are a well-matched pair, Vogt is nicely complemented by the warm, steady tones of veteran bass René Pape in the ‘Salvum fac’. And when they sing together even Barenboim smiles approvingly in their direction. ‘In te, Domine, speravi’ is the musical and dramatic apogee of this great work, the choirs hurling their high notes into the empyrean before storming the very citadels of Heaven. I simply defy you not to be moved, and mightily so, by those final perorations which are among the most glorious in all music.

With the exception of that dull Beethoven – and bearing in mind my concerns about the sound options – there’s enough here to make this a worthwhile concert. I daresay most will buy this Blu-ray for the bread and perhaps skip the filling; don’t, for the Boulez is a splendid piece, superbly shaped and projected by Barenboim and his band. It’s the perfect entrée to this composer’s often knotty œuvre and, quite possibly, it’s the hidden gem in this star-studded affair.

Despite some technical issues, this is worth adding to your stash of Blu-rays.

Dan Morgan




































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