Amazon's skimpy headnote for this DVD does not really tell you what it is. It is a two-part DVD. First there is a brilliantly written and produced documentary that in thirty minutes gives a pretty good analysis of Dvorák's 'New World' Symphony in layman's terms. Credit must be given to Angelika Stiehler who wrote and directed it. It combines pictures of Dvorák in the new world, during the time he was director of a conservatory in New York in the 1890s, with video/audio of the Berlin Philharmonic playing parts of the symphony with voice-over explication of the music. Added to that are some fascinating clips of NYU music professor and Czech music expert, Michael Beckerman, talking about and illustrating at the piano the music of the symphony. He talks at length about Dvorák's intent to incorporate 'American' music (by which he meant primarily Native American, but also some Afro-American music) into the work. It is interesting that the most familiar melody, the theme from the Largo which became known as 'Going Home' and was later often presented as a Negro spiritual, is actually a melody that Dvorák invented as typical of Native American tunes and which he intended to illustrate part of the story of Hiawatha as made familiar in the Longfellow poem. And speaking of that, there is little doubt, according to Beckerman (and one would have to agree) that Dvorák used (but changed in a minor way) the spiritual 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' as the third theme of the first movement. This documentary adds much to one's understanding of this much-beloved work.
The documentary is followed by a simply magnificent performance of Dvorák's Symphony No. 9, 'From the New World', as recorded live at the May 2002 'Europe Concert' at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily. This performance is part of a previously released DVD of that complete concert Claudio Abbado: Europa-Konzert From Palermo which I reviewed a couple of years ago and from which I will quote: "... a sublime reading of Dvorák's 'New World Symphony.' If I had to single out a section that moved me the most it would be that so-familiar second movement with its English horn solo playing what most of us know as 'Going Home.' I was so impressed by the English hornist's playing that I went to the Berliner Philharmoniker website to find out his name so I could include it here: Dominik Wollenweber. Abbado chooses a slower than usual tempo for this movement and time seems to stand still. Without question this is the best performance of that movement that I've ever heard."
This DVD is part of an ongoing series called 'Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music' and which up to now also includes Mozart's Symphony No. 41 'Jupiter' Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music and Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto Con Vn/Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music. I've not seen them, but if they are as good as the present DVD, this series looks to be a treasure. I suspect it and its mates will be bought by curious music-lovers, schools and libraries, to their advantage.
Strongly recommended for its intended audience.
Sound: PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1; Subtitle languages: English, German, Spanish, French (narration is in English); TT:77 mins (documentary 27mins; performance 50mins)