French Night at the Berlin Waldbühne (DVD)

0 of 5 stars

Roman Carnival – Overture
Carmen – Suite
L’Arlésienne – Farandole
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Berliner Luft
The Tales of Hoffmann – Barcarolle
Concerto for piano (left-hand)
Johann Strauss I
Radetzky March

Leon Fleisher (piano)

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Georges Prêtre

Recorded 27 June 1992, Waldbühne, Berlin

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: July 2002

This DVD features Georges Prêtre, a conductor now close to 80 (born 1924) and one rarely lost for passionate commitment – his facials and body-language make ’good TV’; he lives the music. That’s only a part of it. He’s also an individual musician who usually illuminates the score at hand. A tad wilful maybe, but never dull.

The shooting of this 1992 concert is pretty decent – I mean, just how many ways can an orchestra be filmed? Musicians bowing and blowing, and hitting things, is much the same from concert to concert. This one is from the great outdoors, a large venue in a Berlin wood with thousands of people sitting on the ground or in deckchairs, picnics are being consumed. There are noises-off – a baby howls in the Ravel concerto – and there’s a bit of a rabble-element reception to frame some of the pieces.

Strange choice for such a concert, the Ravel Left-hand – the bonus is that Leon Fleisher is playing it, and it’s great to have him on film doing so. Fleisher has for sometime been restricted to left-hand repertoire (although I believe more recently he has been able to return using to both hands). The Ravel is probably the prime work of its kind – there are others by Britten, Korngold and Prokofiev for example – and Fleisher has made at least two commercial recordings of it. Here he is remarkably assured given that he’s playing in a countryside marquee. It’s a reading full of deft touches, both from him and Prêtre, and comes off very well.

Spirited Berlioz opens the concert, and a volatile and moulded Faune picks up after Ravel’s concerto; for this we are treated, if that’s the word, to tree-upon-tree montages and general shots of foliage before the orchestra steals in again. The Carmen excerpts are energised and tender, the final ’Bohemian Dance’ goes for broke … and it’s also remarkable how dark it is by now compared with the sunny opening. Long picnic interval? Bolero doesn’t so much start as emerge from the audience’s din; it’s a good, well controlled performance, broad in tempo, the two side drums placed between strings and woodwinds. There are close-ups of the various orchestral soloists as the insinuating melody comes round and round again in this 15-minute crescendo. Four encores follow. I guess the vulgar sing-a-long Lincke is obliged to round-off every Waldbühne concert given it appears on other such occasions.

The sound is pretty good, a tad blowsy, a little restricted, but detail is clear. Audience intrusions are actually relatively few – there’s some unwanted clapping after the Carmen prelude and before the Offenbach is finished. There is though too much applause and too many shots of people lying on the grass consuming comestibles, smoking and chatting – this really should have been edited down for home viewing.

The plus side is that this film captures two musicians needing exposure to a wider public. For some interesting performances I’m pleased to have this DVD of an event that, musically, seems too stimulating for its circumstances.

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