Symphony No.88 in G
Christoph von Dohnányi
A film mixing rehearsal sequences and an interview with Dohnányi. Produced 1998
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2002
CD No: ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 288
A shot across the Thames and familiar London landmarks – the camera stops at the Royal Festival Hall. Away from outside activity the familiar auditorium is resounding to Haydn’s Symphony No.88 being rehearsed. The Philharmonia Orchestra is working with Christoph von Dohnányi in his early days as Principal Conductor.
In this 60-minute DVD film, Dohnányi is captured as a man of authority, autocracy even – challenging the players but not without pleasantry and pragmatism. Each of the four movements is featured in embryo-state, Dohnányi making observations of style and balance, the camera catching players’ reactions, the sound quality an explicit aural counterpart. In between the movements Dohnányi is interviewed; there are also contributions from Meyrick Alexander, Keith Bragg and other Philharmonia musicians.
Aimed at those interested in the finer points of interpretation and how a performance is put together, this film covers what can be measured, what is more mysterious … and mutual trust. Get the basics in place then you can start; Dohnányi demands that the Philharmonia “make some music of it”. And this is great music – “neglected and challenging, much more complicated to understand than Mozart. It’s outstanding what this man does,” says Dohnányi of Haydn.
The camerawork complements the analysis of rehearsal excellently, and seems unobtrusive to all involved. Captured is Dohnányi’s relish of this wondrous music, his working methods, and the relationship between orchestra and conductor. Issues raised include the use of antiphonal violins and playing Haydn on modern instruments, “the soundworld of our time”. Humour is “the greatest gift to human beings,” says the maestro; how well this quality is conveyed by Haydn.
I only wish that the concert performance had been filmed as a corollary to the hard-working rehearsal. Even so, this DVD documents an absorbing process and leaves a positive and enlightening impression.