A Flight Through the Orchestra
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 [40:55]
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Tugan Sokhiev
rec. June 2015, The Old Power Station, Kraftwerk Rummelsburg, Berlin
Conception and TV direction: Henning Kasten
Region code: 0 (Worldwide)
TV format: NTSC 16:9
Sound: PCM Stereo; Dolby Digital 5.0 – DTS 5.0
EUROARTS DVD 2061178 [45:00]

This DVD contains a performance of the Brahms Second Symphony given in a vast hall which is part of a former power station in Berlin. The musicians are dressed in formal concert attire and the performance is described as “The One Shot Concert” from which I infer that it was recorded ‘as live’. There is no audience present but, then, that’s part of the point of director Henning Kasten’s conception.

In a booklet note, which I didn’t read before watching since I deliberately wanted to experience the film “cold” Henning Kasten explains that he wanted to avoid the conventional concert presentation in which most cameras are placed at a distance and footage is cut and edited so that often the focus is on the instrumentalists who are prominent at a particular time in the score. He adds that under this traditional approach “what we hear is a sound mix that simulates the experience of an imaginary spectator seated in an idealized location in the middle of an auditorium. And the acoustics do not change, regardless of whether we are seeing a close-up of a flautist, a cello section or the entire orchestra.”

What Kasten does in this film is to use a single telescopic 4k resolution camera fitted with five microphones to range through and around the orchestra in one unbroken take. In addition to the camera microphones every musician’s stand has a microphone on it

Thus we can view the performance as it takes place from many angles inside and outside the orchestra. We can also hear the performance as it takes place, according to Kasten. He claims that this approach has an effect on the sound that we hear: “The unique feature of the flight of the orchestra [sic] is the acoustic correlation to the images: We hear what we see.” We are told that an instrument which appears closer to the viewer also sounds closer. I have to say that this feature was not entirely obvious to me. I noticed – without the prompt of having read Kasten’s note – that the oboes sounded more prominent than usual when they were in shot and, to a lesser extent, so did the flutes but I didn’t really experience the closeness that Kasten claims. Perhaps this was because I was listening to the PCM stereo sound; had I been able to listen in surround sound maybe I would have got a different result. To be honest I’m rather relieved that the sound picture didn’t register quite as the director had intended; I might have found the prominence of a particular instrument or small section of the orchestra a bit distracting.

The camerawork is interesting. Often, pace Kasten, we do in fact see something close to the traditional approach in the sense that the camera locks on to an instrument that is playing a solo at the time. But many other shots, particularly of rank and file players, offer much closer close-ups than one might otherwise get; occasionally, though n ot too often, these close-ups seem rather intrusive. At other times the camera is panning round the orchestra and once or twice I found myself wishing that the camera would come to rest for a while. However, there’s no denying that quite a number of the images are from unusual angles or perspectives. The pictures are, without exception, sharp and clear.

There are, perhaps, less shots of the conductor than one might expect in a conventional concert film. I particularly liked some images of Sokhiev during the Presto ma non assai section of the third movement; here one can get a very good impression of what he is doing to achieve lightness of texture.

The performance itself is a good one. It may not offer any striking new perspectives on the symphony but the playing is very good and Sokhiev offers a clean, crisp interpretation. Towards the end of the first movement I thought that perhaps his pacing was too slow in the pages following the important horn solo. Otherwise I thought his direction was purposeful and sensible.

The DVD has a somewhat ungenerous playing time. Visually the film is an interesting experience though sonically I’m not sure it will make quite the effect intended unless one can view and hear it on top of the range equipment.

John Quinn


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