The Reichsorchester: The Berlin Philharmonic and the Third Reich
A film by Enrique Sánchez Lansch (2007)
Sound Format: PCM Stereo; Picture Format: 16:9, 1080i; Region: Worldwide
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Korean
This totally absorbing disc contains two items, the documentary film and a short bonus already partly used in the film, a concert performance of The Mastersingers Prelude by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler recorded in 1942 at an AEG company plant. There is no menu system and subtitles default to off so the use of the player controls is necessary once the film is started. Structurally it is a series of interviews with ex-members, or relatives of members, inter-cut with archive film. It is well titled and presented without unnecessary drama, allowing a fascinating tale to unfold at its own speed. The film is divided into 12 chapters which run together seamlessly. These are worth listing because they tell the potential purchaser what to expect to gain from an hour and a half of their time.
The Philharmonic declared 'Reichsorchester'
Jewish members of the orchestra
Political takeover
'Party hacks' in the orchestra
Tours abroad
Bombs falling on Berlin
Berlin Frontlines: Philharmonic plays on
Final months of the war
Fresh start and denazification process
The Aftermath
Finale, for now
Whilst the tone is inevitably anti-Nazi it is never strident. The focus, as the director notes, is on 'the way collectives protect the individual from his or her responsibilities'. 'It would depict', he goes on, 'the blindness at the eye of the storm.' He addresses, he says, 'a responsible, 21st-century audience, adult minds that now understand the historical context and can fathom it much better. People who, rather than appointing an accusatorial finger, seek to learn lessons from the past ... ' One cannot fail to be impressed by the dignified accounts of these old men, all the retired players are men, and the occasional female relatives, of a period in their lives which is perplexing in the extreme and which forces one to ask what one would do oneself in such circumstances. The excellent liner-notes consist of two essays, one a reflection on the film by the director and the other a synopsis of the content. The director expresses his amazement that the status of the Berlin Philharmonic during the Third Reich has never been appraised despite the more than sixty years that have passed since hostilities ended. The case of Wilhelm Furtwängler has been subjected to extensive analysis and even made the subject of drama but he was just one musician, though perhaps the most prominent. The synoptic essay has considerable value because it draws together in a few pages the narrative of the entire film: the film itself, being interviews and archive, has a discursive quality without at any point losing focus.
This is the most absorbing, moving and thought-provoking slice of history for the viewer and if only a single non-performance disc makes it into one's music collection, this should be it.

Dave Billinge

Absorbing, moving and thought-provoking … if only a single non-performance disc makes it into one's music collection, this should be it.

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