15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
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The Berlin Philharmonic has been known to eat conductors alive. Even the iron-willed Herbert von Karajan had his problems, barely escaping unscathed following a controversy over his choice of orchestra members. So when Sir Simon was picked as principle conductor of the orchestra there was some surprise over the decision; the impression that he might not be up to the task because of his easy-going nature was fairly wide-spread. But he has been a splendid conductor of the orchestra and the match appears to be a nearly perfect one.
This DVD features two superb Russian works that convey something of the vivid nationalism that swept through Russia in the Nineteenth Century. Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition as orchestrated by Maurice Ravel has been a popular work since its first performance. The Berlin Philharmonic are especially brilliant in these large-scale pictorial works; their wonderful technique, stunning tone and sheer forcefulness have never been more evident than here. Listen to those deep, rumbling brasses, the expressive sheen of their strings and the intimate lyricism of the woodwinds and you will appreciate why this orchestra is considered so special. This is a vivid technicolor performance with Sir Simon firmly in control, loosening the reins now and then as needed. The huge orchestral finale with its mighty reverberating gongs seems to magically conjure the Great Gate of Kiev into existence in our imagination and it is simply thrilling.
Borodin's slightly more subdued Symphony No. 2 is a lyrical masterpiece that evokes a mythical Russia. To my mind it seems to convey the vast frozen steppes and the ancient invading Rus. There is an autumnal Slavic melancholy in almost every note of the symphony. Sir Simon and the orchestra emphasize the sheer sonic beauty and yearning soulfulness of this work. The strings play with a satiny softness in the most lyrical moments, while the more forceful ones are presented with understated power by the brasses and winds. Sir Simon is never less than utterly appropriate in his choice of tempo, texture and dynamics. If you love these two works then you will treasure these performances from one of the world's finest orchestras. If they are new to you then this DVD will make a splendid introduction. Both sound and picture are exemplary.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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This is a recording of a live concert gala for New Year's Eve, 2007, in the Philharmonie Berlin.
Blu-ray productions such as this have every advantage over attending a live performance except for the thrill of actually occupying the same space and time as the great orchestra and its conductor. I know of no concert hall in which one can hear each instrument with perfect clarity and at the same time see each member of the orchestra; and it is such a pleasure to see the total commitment of each member of the orchestra that results in readings of great precision, color, and intensity.
The visual element (beautifully sharp and immediate in Blu-ray) helps to call attention to the particulars of the composers' decisions regarding orchestration and to reinforce one's knowledge that this orchestra is not only a great ensemble but also a collection of individual soloists with world-wide careers of their own. Witness for example the contribution of flutist Emmanuel Pahud, following in the footsteps perhaps of the Berliner Philharmoniker's most famous flutist alumnus, James Galway. I think that it is unfortunate that the credits, both on-screen, and in the booklet, fail to list the individual members of the orchestra; and while one can look up the personnel on the Internet, it takes some matching up of faces to figure out who is the leader of each section for a particular performance. The Berlin Phil has, for example, three concertmasters, any one of which may occupy the principal chair for a given concert. In this case it is Guy Braunstein.
I came to buy this disc and several others by the Berliner Philharmoniker as a result of enjoying their "Digital Concert Hall" for the past two years (since early 2009). There, both live and archived Berlin performances are delivered in HD and high-quality stereo over the Internet for a fee. "Attending" Berlin's concerts in this way has increased my respect for the orchestra and given me a heightened appreciation for the ways in which home viewing of concerts can be in some respects a superior experience to being physically present in the hall. I bring this up because for those readers familiar with the Digital Concert Hall this disc is even better! Camera work involving cranes and other intrusive devices can only be justified for special occasions like this one, but they do provide a somewhat more dynamic experience than the permanently installed robotic cameras used for the Digital Concert Hall. Similarly, the 5.1 surround sound goes beyond the Digital Concert Hall's current restriction to 2 channels (as of this writing, but 5.1 is ready to go once the Adobe Flash player acquires that ability).
DVDs and Blu-rays of the past decade or so have treated us to sonics beyond anything I dared hope for before: 5.1 surround with near-perfect frequency response, great dynamics, and negligible distortion. Recording engineers have mastered the feat of letting us hear each instrument individually while at the same time melding it all into an integrated whole. This is one such disc that benefits from the expert use of modern technology. In this case, I'd characterize the sound as just slightly on the bright side, with the massed violins sometimes sounding ever so slightly hard-edged; but then the Berliner's string section is indeed a muscular one.
Of the two soundtracks my own preference is for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, but PCM stereo is provided, too. (Many concert DVDs are available that provide a choice among PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1. In such cases DTS usually provides a more bass-heavy and spacious sound compared with Dolby Digital. On the Blu-ray disc at hand, the DTS-HD MA makes no difference in the bass versus the PCM 2.0, as far as I can hear; and the surround effect is subtle. No Dolby Digital track is provided, which is OK unless that should happen to be the only surround mode available in your hardware.) Be sure to turn up the volume so that you hear the timbres of each individual instrument; the tuttis will then blow you away, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your tolerance of, or enjoyment of, realistic dynamic range. Although there was a brief period several years back in which surround sound was used to place the listener aurally so that (s)he was surrounded by the instruments, sound engineers today almost always use surround sound sparingly, only to provide some hall ambience; and that is the case here.
Interpretations are non-idiosyncratic, which is to say that the music is allowed to speak for itself. (And indeed, as is Simon Rattle's wont, the orchestra is often left to play on its own while Rattle simply watches benignly and gives the occasional cue.) These performances deliver both poetry and excitement through the careful judging of pacing, which includes taking time for pastoral and romantic moods and providing a sense of anticipation before adopting brisker tempi for the more exuberant and climactic sections of the score -- but all kept within tasteful bounds. The only drawback for me in these performances is that I do not care much for the European (especially German) way of playing double-reed instruments--too slow a vibrato for my taste; and on this occasion the Berlin Phil had as its solo oboist Jonathan Kelly, who exemplifies this style somewhat more than others in spite of his being British. But that is just my taste; Kelly is a great oboist who plays with sensitivity and vigor.
For me the highlight of the evening was the Borodin Symphony No. 2, whose endearing lyrical melodies and rhythmic and incisive outbursts especially benefit from the virtuosity of the Berliner Philharmoniker. Although all choirs of the orchestra performed superbly, the woodwinds were a particular delight in this piece; and that definitely includes the French horns, which, though brass, are sort of honorary woodwinds (as the chamber-music ensemble known as a woodwind quintet includes a French horn as standard equipment).
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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I agree with Mike Birman's review, so I'll make this short. The Berlin Philharmonic just gets better every time I hear it. It is great to see so many young men and women in the orchestra. This is a superb performance of Pictures at an Exhibition. The Borodin is less familiar to me (I love his Quartet #2) but was beautifully played.
Like all EuroArts DVDs, this concert looks and sounds great. Highly recommended.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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The Berlin Philharmonic is the best orchestra in the world and they just keep getting better. The playing on this disc is great and the whole production is first rate. "Pictures" uses the Ravel orchestration which is the most commonly done and the best in my opinion. It was hard to determine which orchestration was used from the information given online.
I now own 4 blu-ray orchestra discs and am really impressed with all of them. Hopefully the price of these blu-ray discs will come down some. This disc is basically a complete concert including an encore. You won't be disappointed with your purchase.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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This Russian-themed concert from 2007 is performed at the expected high standards of the BPO under Simon Rattle. Its success, when judged against the highest of interpretive standards, is a little more varied however while still being an enjoyable concert overall.
The opening Polovtsian Dances make a good opening number and are given a comfortably secure reading which makes full use of the tonal resources of the orchestra. It is the following second symphony of Borodin that doubts really start to appear. This is a very major Russian work and the Russian temperament ideally needs to be fully exposed. It is this aspect that is so obviously missing, especially in the opening movement. Those who are familiar with the famous Decca recording of the work with Martinon conducting the LSO on top form will know exactly what I mean here. That performance sizzles from the start and serves as a good example that it does not require a Russian orchestra and/or conductor to achieve the Russian volatility that is missing here. However, to be fair, the Borodin pieces could be described as very good, mid-European performances.
The Mussorgsky half of this concert is totally successful. The Pictures at an Exhibition, as orchestrated by Ravel, is also more European in its conceptual nature and suits this orchestra well. The music has long been a staple item in the orchestra's repertoire, even going back to an admired recording by Karajan in the 1960's. The piece features many solo passages and it is in these that the individual players excel. The larger moments also suit the accumulative tonal resources and power of this impressive group of musicians. The Khovanshchina introduction is an object lesson in sustained quiet expressive playing, even almost to the point of inaudibility at times. The orchestra let their musical hair down in the Shostakovich encore from The Golden Age which is played with considerable verve.
The imaging is very crisp and of excellent colour rendition. The camera work is involving throughout. The sound is faithfully reproduced and presented in DTS-HD 5.1 as well as stereo.
This is a very enjoyable concert if not very Russian in feel. It should nevertheless give considerable satisfaction as an example of a central European way of playing the music to a very high standard.