Waldbühne 2011: Fellini, Jazz & Co
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Jazz Suite No. 2, Op. 50b (1938) [26:20]
Encore:Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - Suite, Op. 29a (1930-1932)
III. Allegretto [2:46]
Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
La Strada - Suite (1954) [24:05]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome), P. 106 (1915-1916) [17:17]
Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome), P. 141 (1923-1924) [24:07]
Encore:Belkis, Queen of Sheba - Suite, P. 177 (1930)
II. Danza guerresca(War Dance) [3:31]
Paul LINCKE (1866-1946)
Berliner Luft (1922) [4:35]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Riccardo Chailly
rec. live, Waldbühne, Berlin, 23 August 2011
Picture: 16:9, 1080i Full-HD
Sound: PCM stereo, dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Video director: Henning Kasten
EUROARTS BLU-RAY 2058404 [105:00]
As outdoor venues go, Berlin’s Waldbühne is one of the most spectacular. Based on the amphitheatre at the ancient Greek city of Epidaurus and now home to the Berliner Philharmoniker’s summer concerts, it seats 22,000 people in a pleasant forest setting, the stage topped by a distinctive, twin-peaked roof-cum-acoustic-shell. Many of the orchestra’s themed evenings are available on DVD - they tend to surface on various arts channels as well - the ‘American Night’, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, one of the most memorable of recent years. Now it’s the turn of Riccardo Chailly, whose live Mahler 2 from the 2011 Leipzig Mahlerfest impressed me so (review).
The slightly cumbersome title of this disc - Fellini, Jazz & Co - isn’t all that accurate. Shostakovich’s Jazz Suites, culled from his other works for stage and screen, aren’t particularly jazzy; that said, they’re terrific showpieces, as is the suite from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. The Fellini connection is more obvious, his 1954 film La Strada blessed with a fine score by Nino Rota. The ‘& Co’ part encompasses two-thirds of Respighi’s colourful Roman trilogy and a dance from his last ballet, Belkis, Regina di Saba. The fizzy coda is provided by Paul Lincke’s Berliner Luft, from his operetta Frau Luna; it’s to Berliners what the Radetzky March is to the Viennese, right down to the audience participation.
For some reason Chailly has yet to record any of the Shostakovich symphonies, but he has given us the piano concertos and lots of lesser-known scores. In particular I quite enjoyed The Dance Album (Decca), although his emphasis on cool sophistication does rob the music of its raw heat and energy. And so it proves here, genial rhythms and the orchestra’s oh-so-svelte delivery better suited to the Strausses than to Shostakovich. Balances are inconsistent too; the piano, squeezebox and saxophones are easily heard, but the xylophone is very indistinct, especially in the perky Little Polka. The soft-edged, somewhat diffuse sound - in stereo at least - isn’t terribly involving either.
Regrettably, it doesn’t get any better, with a bland rendition of Rota’s La Strada that lacks energy and direction. There are fine violin and trumpet solos and Chailly does up the ante - and the tempo - in that jazzy middle section, muted trumpets, drums and hi-hats to the fore; otherwise it’s too much like a unruffled, air-conditioned ride in an expensive Mercedes, devoid of the character and edge that so enlivens Riccardo Muti’s fine CD version for Sony. Goodness, less idiomatic readings of this and the Shostakovich it would be hard to imagine!
So, how does the Respighi fare? Not very well, is the short answer. These four Roman fountains are very different and that’s reflected in the scoring; yet such are the turgid tempi and lack of sparkle that you’d be hard-pressed to tell one from the other. Poor balance is even more of an issue here, the piano and bells of the Villa Medici fountain all but inaudible; inexplicably, the stereo layer is veiled, gaining a little in oomph and bite if one selects the surround option - mixed down to stereo on my Sony player. A desperately prosaic performance in every respect, I’m afraid.
This doesn’t augur well for the Pines of Rome, which demands plenty of momentum, colour and attack, all qualities I’ve not heard thus far. The whooping woodwind of the Villa Borghese aren’t as crisp and animated as usual, the sombre bass of the Catacombs much too light to make a lasting impact. Dynamically the supposedly high-res recording is nowhere near as expansive or frisson-inducing as it should be, especially in the slow-building climax to this movement; and Chailly’s somnolent reading doesn’t help. The Pines of the Janiculum fares little better - the piano is audible though - and Chailly gives the legionnaires’ Appian march a Mahlerian lilt and sway that’s frankly bizarre. Not surprisingly, that huge finale counts for precious little here.
Not even the spirited cncores - Lady Macbeth, Belkis and the bierkeller rowdiness of Berliner Luft - can save this wasted evening, those stilted shots of doe-eyed lovers and earnest families smiling fixedly at the distant stage an apt visual metaphor for this concert as a whole.
Soporific performances and dull sonics; in other words, a dud.
Dan Morgan

Soporific performances and dull sonics; in other words, a dud. 

Masterwork Index: Roman trilogy