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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sir Roger Norrington in rehearsal and performance
Symphony No. 39 in E flat major K543: rehearsal [28:20]; performance [31:37]
Radio Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart/Sir Roger Norrington
rec. Orchesterakademie Schwetzinger Festspiele, 1996
Format: NTSC 4:3; PCM Stereo
Subtitles: German, French, Spanish
Region Code: 0
EUROARTS 2018168 DVD [60:00]

Eavesdropping on rehearsals can be revealing. Even where the musical rewards are not great the reminder of the amount of sheer hard work that goes into producing any kind of acceptable performance is salutary. Here, however, even when we get only snippets from what was presumably a much longer session, much can be learnt of the reasons for the conductor's approach and how he goes about getting the excellent results he wants. That said, I do wonder whether parts if not all of this rehearsal were staged for the camera. Despite the frequent smiles and even laughter from them I suspect that few orchestras would welcome so much talking to them, especially in a work they must have played many times. I may however be wrong and Sir Roger's undoubted charm and the considerable interest of what he says seem to be sufficient to win over even the most hard-boiled orchestral players. He speaks for the most part in English, which seems to cause the orchestra no problems, and uses large gestures. He encourages and makes suggestions rather than gives orders, and in general adopts a collegiate approach to rehearsal. At one point he tries a passage using different methods of tonguing in the woodwind and at another admits that he has set the wrong speed. He is happy to resort to slow practice of the appoggiaturas in the Finale before he gets the phrasing he wants. All conductors must, of necessity, find their own way of relating to an orchestra but it would be hard to deny that Sir Roger's way is one of the most attractive and humane. As this disc was recorded before he became their director the orchestra presumably thought the same way.

The resulting performance - before what appears to be a tiny audience - is all the more interesting after watching the rehearsal. The first movement brings a fast speed for the initial Adagio - not seen in the rehearsal - but a surprisingly sedate one for the Allegro. Here and elsewhere there is always a sense of direction in the music-making.

Overall this is a disc that gives both pleasure and instruction. My only regret is that more of the rehearsal was not included.

John Sheppard


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