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Gala from Berlin - Grand Finales
Full track listing at foot of review
Klaus Maria Brandauer (speaker)
RIAS Kammerchor/Rundfunkchor, Berlin
Berliner Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado
rec. live, 1999, Philharmonie, Berlin
No subtitles
TV format: 1018i Full HD 16:9; Sound: PCM Stereo; Region Code: All (worldwide)
EUROARTS Blu-ray 2013324 [108:00]

Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker gave a concert to celebrate the end of the millennium in 1999. Although no precise date is given I presume that the concert preserved on this Blu-Ray disc took place on 31 December 1999 or perhaps it was given more than once and what we have here edits together excerpts from more than one performance. Someone had the idea that as the concert marked the end of a millennium it would be good to perform a number of finales from symphonies and other large-scale pieces. Certainly it’s a novel idea though I’m not sure that it works quite as well in practice as it may have looked on paper at the planning stage.
 
It probably goes without saying that all the performances here are excellent; Abbado was never a conductor who would just go through the motions and he and his orchestra – not forgetting the choirs – are on their collective mettle. However, if you watch the concert through it does seem odd, to say the least, to have the finale from Beethoven’s Seventh as the overture and then move into Dvořák followed by Mahler. Abbado, who was in energetic form for the Beethoven, leads an ebullient, fresh account of the Dvořák. The Mahler is a particularly fine performance, one which really spurs the audience into life.
 
The Stravinsky, though superbly played, is even more of a programming oddity, a sort of sawn-off Firebird Suite. The selection that we hear begins with the ‘Infernal Dance’ followed by the ‘Berceuse’ and the ‘Finale’; essentially, therefore, it’s the second half of the suite. The ‘Berceuse’ is wonderful, opening with gorgeous bassoon and oboe solos on a feather-soft bed of hushed strings while the transition to the Finale is completely magical. Also wrenched from its context is the concluding ‘Danse générale’ from Daphnis et Chloé. This driving performance is very fine. Incidentally, the orchestra includes no less than four harps for this and several other items. This piece also features for the first time the excellent chorus.
 
The choir contributes some suitably fervent singing in the colourful if somewhat blatant episode from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky. I rather suspect that the conclusion of Gurre-Lieder was the last music before the interval. We hear the passage involving the narrator and the choral apotheosis. Klaus Maria Brandauer does pretty well as the narrator though he is audibly strained in his delivery of the last line; at this point the singers and orchestra take over to provide a sumptuous end. It’s in the section involving the narrator that the absence of any subtitles is especially regrettable.
 
The remaining music partly taps the world of operetta in a sort of Berlin version of a Viennese evening. Frankly, the music isn’t that interesting but the performances are spruce and sparkling. Abbado seems to be enjoying himself though a lot of the players look pretty serious throughout. The final item, Paul Lincke’s Berliner Luft is, apparently, traditionally performed each year in June when the orchestra gives its end-of-season concert in Berlin’s Waldbühne. The choir – and quite a number of the audience – sing lustily and everyone who’s not busy playing an instrument joins in the rhythmical handclaps. By the way, Abbado starts this piece off but almost immediately leaves the stage and lets the orchestra get on with it, which they do in style.
 
The camerawork and sound is good. I’m sure this was great fun on the night in question – though, to my surprise, I spotted several empty seats – but like many gala concerts with a ‘bitty’ programme I’m not sure how much it bears repetition. However, be assured that the quality of the performances is uniformly excellent and it’s good to have a reminder of the late and much-missed Claudio Abbado on top form.
 
John Quinn
 
Track-listing
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Symphony No. 7 Op.92 (Allegro con brio) [9:19]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Symphony No.8 Op.88 (Allegro non troppo) [10:07]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911) Symphony No.5 (Rondo Finale) [15:49]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Excerpts from Firebird (1919) [12:08]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Daphnis et Chloé (Danse générale) [5:35]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Alexander Nevsky Op.78 (‘Alexander’s entry into Pskov’) [5:31]
Arnold SCHÖNBERG (1874-1951) Gurre-Lieder (‘Seht die Sonne’) [11:13]
Paul LINCKE (1866-1946) Grigri – Overture [2:38]; Folies Bergères – March [2:40]; Brandbrief-Galopp [2:42]
Siegfried TRANSLATEUR (1875-1944) Sportpalast-Walzer [6:20]
Ernst FISCHER (1900-1975) Sparkling Champagne [3:21]
Otto NICOLAI (1810-1849) The Merry Wives Of Windsor – Overture [9:09]
Walter KOLLO (1878-1940) Solang noch unter’n Linden [3:59]
Paul LINCKE Berliner Luft [4:36]