This four DVD box, part of EuroArts' 'Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music' series, contains a reshuffling of previous releases containing four stupendous performances of great romantic musical masterpieces: Brahms' and Mendelssohn's Violin Concertos, Schumann's Piano Concerto, and Dvorák's 'New World' Symphony, all played by first-rank world-class musicians. Each of these pieces was originally presented on a DVD that presented a full concert of the artists involved. The Brahms and Dvorak come from an Abbado/Berlin Philharmonic concert -- one of their so-called 'Europa Concerts' in which the orchestra goes to some European city to play a festive concert -- that took place at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Italy and featured violinist Gil Shaham. The Schumann concerto, played by Martha Argerich accompanied by the Leipzig Gewandhaus under Riccardo Chailly, originally appeared in a concert DVD that also included, among other works, Schumann's Fourth Symphony. The Mendelssohn concerto, played by Frank-Michael Erleben, violinist, accompanied by Kurt Masur and the Leipzig orchestra, originally appeared on an all-Mendelssohn concert DVD that also included the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture and the Symphony No. 3, 'Scottish.' Each of the DVDs in this box also has a brief well-done documentary bearing on the music. These could be very instructive for those who are not terribly familiar with the works and their history.
I have reviewed three of the four above-mentioned and include here pertinent paragraphs from those reviews:
Brahms: "And then Gil Shaham, surely one of the handful of really great violinists on the scene, plays the Brahms Violin Concerto. Rarely have I heard such a combination of technical ease and deeply musical expressivity in this thrice-familiar masterpiece. The Adagio is particularly moving. The long opening oboe solo, played by Albrecht Mayer, is meltingly beautiful; Shaham's playing here is ethereally haunting. There is no dearth of violinistic fireworks in the outer movements." Europa Konzert From Palermo
Dvorák: "This is then followed by 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." Europa Konzert From Palermo
Schumann: "The Piano Concerto in A minor by Robert Schumann was written for a female concert pianist, his wife - Clara. Martha Argerich most ably substitutes for Clara, providing a very strong, sensitive, even lyrical interpretation, always being in control. It can be argued that Martha Argerich is the most qualified living pianist to play the Schumann piano concerto. Many years ago when I first heard Martha Argerich, I thought her playing to be bombastic pyrotechnics, and that she was sort of the female Lazar Berman. I can no longer consider that to be in any way correct. Seeing her silhouette while hearing her mastery, I had the fleeting impression that maybe I was hearing Clara. Her performance was clearly masterful, and the people of Leipzig responded to the excellence of that performance by giving her a very well deserved encore. Clara herself described this concerto as an intertwining of the piano and orchestra, so much so that one could not consider one without the other. This performance embodies that attitude. The performance is exquisite, with the customary dark, somber sound of the strings of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra." Schumann: Piano Concerto/Symphony No. 4 - Martha Argerich/Gewandhausorchester/Riccardo Chailly
I had not previously seen the Mendelssohn disc. In it Frank-Michael Erben, in a 1997 performance, is a convincing soloist. His sound may not be as sweet as, say, Shaham or Perlman, but his playing is accurate and musicianly. He is given solid support by Masur and his musicians. Mendelssohn Gala Concert From the Gewandhaus Leipzig
This box-set is obviously intended primarily for those who are relative classical-music newcomers as it combines excellent performances of first-line masterpieces with illuminating documentaries about those works, all at budget price.
Total time: 265 minutes (slightly more than an hour for each DVD); Sound format: PCM stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Languages: English, German, French, Spanish; Region code: 0 (worldwide).