This concert was recorded at the Lucerne Festival in September
2011. Multiple camera angles ensure that a genuine cinematic
experience is on hand, the better to unfold the narrative of
the programme, a broadly conventional one without any reportorial
Not that this suggests convention in other senses. Conductor
Andris Nelsons wears a trademark untucked black shirt - no white
tie and tails for Nelsons. He conducts with many a sweeping
gesture, and many an unchecked smile and grin. The overture
to The Ruins of Athens gets things off to an athletic
start, with plenty of close-up camera shots of orchestral soloists.
Then we have the Emperor Concerto. Yefim Bronfman is
not a man to dally with leisure wear. More lugubrious than Béla
Lugosi, more furrowed than Edward G. Robinson, he is the Nero
Wolfe of pianism: bulky but beady.
I’ve always admired this Epicurean pianist, though he
can be somewhat stolid on occasion. There are passages where
he alternates between elegance and stolidity on this occasion.
And despite Nelsons’s boyish, wide-eyed encouragement,
the concerto never quite achieves a true stature. Admirers of
conductorial antics will enjoy, however, the moment when Nelsons
transfers the baton to his left hand and hammers out the rhythm
with his right: he has clearly absorbed the utility of the pneumatic
drill. Later on in the finale he goes fly fishing, though the
baton’s darting progress is not sufficient truly to energise
the orchestra. Throughout all this Bronfman remains imperturbable,
alternately refined and powerful, but in the end, I feel, not
quite at his best. Maybe for all Nelsons’ glitter, it
was not a true meeting of aesthetic principles. Unshackled,
Bronfman returns for an encore and lo and behold, he plays Chopin’s
Etude in F major quite beautifully. This is the real Bronfman.
Scheherazade is notable, in filming terms, for the excellently
directed series of shots of, in particular, wind principals.
The results have been well edited to ensure maximum comprehensibility
when relating sound and vision. The performance is technically
extremely fine and interpretatively too it often impresses.
The leader’s solo is convincingly played and the Concertgebouw
Orchestra’s weighty sonority is capable of the deftest
turns of phrase. Nelsons is cajoling and encouraging on the
rostrum. In the last result, though, it lacks a sense of exultation
though it doesn’t lack for heft. The encore is a Dvořák
Slavonic Dance, dished out to the prosperous-looking burghers
of Lucerne with relish.
As ever with DVDs I ask myself two questions, assuming technical
matters (as here) are fine: firstly, is this performance of
some interest in respect of repertoire or historic status, and
second, will I play it again? That I answer ‘no’
and ‘no’ is not meant to disparage the performances
or the excellent package generally. It’s more a practical
response to the fact that time is short, and DVD disc drives
take time to load.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven
Piano concerto 5 ~~ Scheherazade
see also review of Blu-ray version by Dan