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The Berlin Philharmoniker in Tokyo
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Overture to Oberon
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto No. 1
Antonin DVORAK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 8
Hilary Hahn (violin)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, Suntory Hall, Tokyo, 26 November 2000
Picture format: NTSC - 16:9; Sound formats: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1;
Region code: 0; Booklet notes: English, German, French;
EUROARTS DVD 2050448 [99:00]

This is an excellent concert from Tokyo captured in really good sound with high definition picture quality to match. The camera-work is unobtrusive but close enough to the action to make you feel part of the proceedings. There’s only one technical niggle and that is the balance of the horns. We could have done with them coming through a bit more, especially in the Dvorak — the finale in particular. This is a minor criticism indeed.
The orchestra plays magnificently throughout with tremendous virtuosity when required, hushed stillness and repose when needed and a general feeling of joyful music-making from the word 'go'. Oberon opens with a lovely horn solo and attentive woodwinds. The immaculate string playing when the overture finally sets sail after the introduction is fabulous. There are numerous expressive touches along the way and Jansons gently pulls the music around in a delightful fashion. The central clarinet solo followed by the singing violins is really melting. Rhythms are crisp and the performance is elegant and satisfying.
I’ve never been too enthusiastic about the Shostakovich concerto. I can take it or leave it and this performance by Hilary Hahn has in no way converted me to its cause. Putting that to one side for a moment it must be said that the soloist displays an immaculate technique and never puts a foot wrong. She’s at her best in the rapid passages and these are despatched in phenomenal style. The word 'quicksilver' springs to mind. The lengthy cadenza is faultless but there are, to my mind, some serious shortcomings in the deeper, darker recesses of the work. Ms Hahn is a very cool customer and some soul-searching and “digging deep” is missing. She doesn’t always get to the heart of the piece. This coolness in some of her work may be a reflection of the violinist’s character. I admire her playing enormously but this coolness and air of detachment, not just in her playing but in her stage presence too, isn’t especially attractive or communicative. She needs to lighten up and become more relaxed.
Now to the gem of the collection - a wonderful account of Dvorak’s Eighth. This is not the usual sort of territory trodden by this great German orchestra but Jansons coaxes them to play with great beauty and freshness. There are no Bruckner-like sounds to be heard here and the players appear to be very happy and at home. The nature of the beast that is the BPO is a deep, dark, sonorous string tone but this is somewhat stripped back here to make the phrasing lighter and more radiant. In essence, it’s more Czech-sounding. There are a couple of instances where the music is pulled back before climaxes just to underline them. It sounds fine to my ears but others will feel that these changes in tempo have a negative impact on the flow. The performance receives a well-deserved ovation from the audience and there quickly follows an encore: Slavonic Dance Op.72 No.7. This is thrown off with such panache and high spirits that it leaves you wanting more.
Despite some minor reservations, many of them subjective on my part, this is a DVD that will bring enormous delight to anyone who buys it. It was a pleasure to see the great Mariss Jansons in action.
John Whitmore
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