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Europa 2001 Concert
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 94 in G, HobI:94 Surprise [23.53]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Flute Concerto No. 2 in D, K314* [22.07]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique, Op.14 [43.27]
Emmanuel Pahud (flute)*
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. Hagia Eirene Church, Istanbul, 1 May 2001
extras: A portrait of Istanbul [19.04]: Behind the scenes [7.51]
Picture Format BD: NTSC - 16:9 - Documentary: SD NTSC
Disc Format: BD 25
Sounds Formats BD: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1 Region Code
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Extras-Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
EUROARTS 2051444 Blu-ray [132.00]

One sometimes wonders what is the point of producing video productions of live concerts for home viewers, when the visual element adds nothing to the actual experience of the music. That is certainly not the case with the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, where the dramatic content of the music actually cries out for an aspect that engages the eyes as well as the ears. Mariss Jansons is fully alert to the histrionic dimensions of the music, and we are shown the offstage oboe placed high in the basilica during the Schne aux champs, as well as the two harps stereophonically positioned at the front of the stage in the second movement Ball, where Jansons does not employ Berliozs later cornet additions. He also gives Berliozs often pioneering orchestral colours their full measure; the piccolo clarinet in the final movement has a screeching quality that is far removed from any suspicion of Karajan smoothness. We are even given the strings playing sul ponticello - in a dubious nineteenth century tradition - towards the end of the same movement. However a step backwards from Karajan is taken in the treatment of the bells, when the older conductor pioneered the use of electronic synthesisers in his later recording with the Berlin Philharmonic. Here we are given two very impressive-looking real bells, but despite their appearance they are at least an octave too high, sounding out above the plainchant in the tubas instead of providing the sinister underpinning that was clearly Berliozs intention. The woodwind make a valiant effort to provide the glissandi which Berlioz requested at the opening of the same movement, but the effect is difficult to fake with modern instruments. Berlioz originally wrote for flutes and oboes without the elaborate keys nowadays employed. Jansons earns a black mark for omitting the marked repeat in the March to the scaffold, which leaves that movement distinctly shorter than the others and unbalances the proportions of the work. Even more unforgivably he similarly eliminates the repeat in the first movement, which not only deprives the idie fixe of the opportunity to establish itself but also removes the brief bridging passage which Berlioz wrote to lead back to the recapitulation.

In the opening Haydn Surprise Symphony we are given, despite a reduction in the number of strings, essentially big-band Haydn in the nineteenth century style. The positioning of the brass on a high podium behind the strings and woodwind means that they sometimes dominate the sound unduly. Nevertheless everything remains clear and poised, with plenty of light and shade in the manner of the playing that often defeats present-day period bands.

In the Mozart second flute concerto - the music is the same as the oboe concerto - Emmanuel Pahud is perfection: light, supple and beautifully inflected. The sound is helped by the resonant acoustic, a Byzantine basilica which provides a halo of sound around the instruments. Like many other Byzantine churches it has been converted into a mosque.

This is a concert one would be delighted to encounter in the concert hall, superbly played and conducted throughout. At the same time I recall a concert I reviewed with pleasure for the Seen and Heard section of this site as recently as January of this year, when the Welsh National Opera Orchestra gave a performance of the Berlioz which not only gave us the score complete with the repeats that the composer indicated, but also made considerably more capital out of the unusual effects that he incorporated. By comparison with that performance, Jansons is just too polished and too polite. Is this Istanbul event a concert, by contrast, that one would want to listen to more than a few times? I rather doubt it. The extras  two German language documentaries (with subtitles) with elements of a travelogue  add nothing of substance. Oddly the brief interview in English with Mariss Jansons is subtitled in that language with words different from those he actually employs. The brief booklet note by Tobias Mvller tells us nothing about the music either.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Masterwork Index: Symphonie fantastique ~~ Haydn symphony 94