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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Leonore Overture No. 3 Op. 72a (1806) [13:40]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major K. 364 (1779) [28:42]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 (1887) [14:51]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony no. 1 in C minor op. 68 (1876) [43:23]
Ilya Konovalov (violin); Roman Spitzer (viola)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
rec. 2012 in front of the Grand Palace, Bangkok, ‘In celebration of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s 80th Birthday’
Picture format DVD: NTSC 16:9
Sounds format: PCM Stereo, DD 5.0, DTS 5.0
Region code: 0
Subtitles and booklet notes: English, German, French
NIMBUS NI6229 [117:00]

This DVD of a special concert in celebration of Queen Sirikit’s 80th birthday comes close to being an enormous success, but recording limitations mean that it ends up as merely a very entertaining record of a well-played programme.
 
Sound quality is a little disappointing, perhaps reflecting the difficulties of recording outdoors - and with what appears to be a major road behind the stage. There are several moments of major balance issues, with small, supporting instrumental lines coming through excessively strongly on a particular microphone. This seems to vary, as does the overall balance of sound, which at times is very full and rounded and elsewhere rather thin. A minor criticism is that applause from the sizeable audience is almost inaudible between pieces, which rather detracts from the sense of occasion. The video footage fares better, but occasionally feels under-directed; in the Brahms, for instance, the fourth movement horn and flute solos show general shots of the orchestra rather than the soloist.
 
To dismiss this DVD based on these criticisms, however, would be unfair, as there is a great deal to commend in this diverse programme. The Israel Philharmonic does well to display some fine playing in each. The biggest success is Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. The vigorous rhythmic figures and swirling clarinet runs carry a tremendous sense of life, all handled with technical ease. Mehta leads a buoyant tour through the work’s charms, and the result is a very sunny performance.
 
Brahms’ first symphony comes off reasonably well too. The tormented passages of the first movement are attacked with a strong bite, the tension building into a strong sense of turbulence. The inner movements are softly redemptive, with many moments of great beauty. The oboe solo in the second is beautifully shaped, entering at its second appearance with renewed softness. The woodwind are similarly good in the third movement, lilting breezily in their dotted rhythms.
 
The finale, attacked without pause, immediately returns to the sense of struggle of the first movement. Mehta does not over-indulge in the softer moments, instead delaying acceptance of the major key until the very last pages. It certainly ends the symphony in convincing good cheer, closing a good performance which is just a little let down by sound quality.
 
Ilya Konovalov (violin) and Roman Spitzer (viola) are the fine soloists for a fluent account of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. Both play with a tremendous sense of friendly interaction between each other, orchestra and conductor. At one stage, Mehta is content to wander off stage and leave the soloists to their cadenza before returning with a broad smile. The orchestra are sensitive accompanists and show some excellent playing of their own, notably in some lovely legato from horns and woodwind in the first movement. The strings, though slightly pared down, play with a full-bodied sound which neatly complements the rich intensity of feeling found by the two soloists.
 
Beethoven’s third Leonore overture remains somewhat earthbound at a fairly steady tempo and dry sound. There is some superb woodwind playing, though, particularly in the well-articulated flute solo which instils a degree more energy in the performance. Images of the Grand Palace work nicely during the trumpet fanfares, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the performance does not quite leave the ground.
 
The DVD is completed by the Royal Thai Anthem and spirited accounts of two Strauss classics as encores, the Thunder and Lightning Polka and Radetzky March. Mehta and his orchestra have huge fun in these, as do the audience. It is quite touching to see Mehta meet a beaming Queen Sirikit after the performance and present her with his baton and an autograph. The audience clearly had huge fun at this concert, and it makes for very satisfying watching, but one feels that, with some improvements in the recording, it could have been substantially better.
 
Rohan Shotton  

Masterwork Index: Brahms symphony 1

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