on October 25, 2006
[Amazon's identifying data here indicates this DVD is in Region 2 format. My copy of this DVD, however, is in Region 0 format, meaning it is playable in all regions.]
First, the contents, in order as they appear of this all-Schumann DVD, not yet listed by Amazon:
Adagio & Allegro brillante (arr. Tchaikovsky)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, with Martha Argerich, piano
'Von fremden Ländern und Menschen' (encore, Argerich)
Four Pieces from 'Carnaval' (arr. Maurice Ravel)
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120
with Riccardo Chailly, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
This is undoubtedly Argerich's show. The dressy audience in the Gewandhaus give her a thunderous ovation after the concerto and equally after her tiny encore ('Of foreign lands and people' from 'Kinderszenen.') Surely Argerich is the reigning diva of international pianists and she does not disappoint here. The concerto is brilliant as one would expect, but there is a lyrical geniality in her playing, too, which seems to be something relatively new for her. Time was when she could be counted primarily for pianistic fireworks; now there are fireworks but also a singing line that makes one's heart swell. She uses divided hands as always -- with the right hand often coming in subtly a micro-beat after the left, typical of old style pianists but not so often heard these days -- and her phrasing, with its agogics and rubato so delicately and unerringly applied, makes the music come alive. This is a marvelous traversal of this time-honored concerto. She makes the most of the rhythmic complexities, particularly those in the third movement, and the music comes out seeming fresher and more modern than it typically does. Still, Schumannesque gemütlichheit is in satisfying abundance. One is reminded again how Schumann used Beethoven as his model, with the short second movement leading without break in the finale (as Beethoven did in his Fourth Concerto) and the opening movement's main theme acting as the bridge into the finale, as is the case with Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. But Schumann's fingerprints are unmistakable throughout. For instance, the finale is in a graceful but energetic triple time that in the middle section alters accents so that it sounds as if in duple time, a place where conductors and orchestras famously come to grief (as Mendelssohn did in the concerto's premiere). It creates no problems here for Chailly and the Gewandhaus; indeed, this is a breathtaking wind-up to this so-familiar concerto. If I had to characterize this performance in one word, and it surprises me to do so if only because I'm comparing it with Argerich's previous CD recording with Harnoncourt, it would be 'sunny.' A lovely performance, worth having.
The concert opens with an arrangement by Tchaikovsky of the Adagio and the Allegro brillante from Schumann's solo piano work, 'Études symphoniques.' I'd never heard it before. While one can admire Tchaikovsky's skill as an orchestrator (and at times it does indeed sound like Tchaikovsky rather than Schumann) it also reminds one of how Tchaikovsky's own music sometimes owes something to Schumann. The Gewandhausorchester sounds rich and full here.
After Argerich's hushed encore, greeted with equally hushed but intense appreciation by the audence, another orchestration of Schumann piano music pops up, that by Ravel of four pieces from 'Carnaval' (listed as 1. Préambule. Quasi maestoso - Più moto - Animato - Vivo - Presto; 2. Valse allemande. Molto vivace; 3. Intermezzo. Paganini. Presto; 4. Marche des 'Davidsbündler' contre les Philistins. Non allego - Molto più vivo - Animato - Vivo - Animato moto - Vivo - Più stretto). Again, I had never heard these orchestrations before. Having myself played 'Carnaval' at the piano, I had some difficulty making the switch to the orchestral timbres, but once I did I realized what a creative and apt job Ravel made of his orchestration. This should come as no surprise as he was one of the twentieth century's master orchestrators. Chailly is in tune with the lightning fast tempo and mood changes in this so-Romantic collection of character pieces.
Schumann's Fourth Symphony, written in 1841, was actually his second to be written but since he made revisions in 1851, after the Second and Third had been premiered, it has since been listed as the last of his symphonies. Brahms had the 1841 version published in the 1890s but it is the 1851 version we hear here. This symphony can have muddy textures if not lightened up either by very careful orchestral voicing or by re-orchestration (most famously done by Mahler). I am fairly sure this is the original orchestration, but the performance does not suffer from clotted textures as performed here. The work begins with one of Schumann's subtlest masterstrokes -- a five-octave A that begins on beat 3 of a 3/4 measure and then is held for three further measures. Its beginning on the last beat of a measure, which the listener without a score will not perceive as such, sets up a subtle uncertainty when one finally hears a downbeat. Schumann, of the composers of his time, had an almost unique ability to set up a slightly tense anticipation in the listener with the minutest of means. It is touches like this that mark out the genius composer.
Since coming to the Gewandhaus only a couple of years ago, Chailly has taken the orchestra into more refined regions of playing. They were a mini-Berlin Philharmonic, very Germanic if a bit leaner, under Masur, and were somewhat Americanized under Blomstedt. Under Chailly they seem to be coming into their own and it is a blessing that we are now getting numbers of CDs and, importantly, DVDs of the group. Also, they seem to have more and more younger players and this appears to be all to the good. Brass are particularly good, tending to be much more subtle than anything heard in the past. The string sound has been richened. Indeed, I find no weak sections in the orchestra and am heartened by that.
This is from a live concert that occurred only four months before the DVD was issued! And in the 1981 Gewandhaus -- the third in a series of concert halls with the name -- with its marvelous architecture and fine acoustics. Sound is state-of-the art and available in PCM Stereo, DD 5.1 or DTS 5.1. Videography is crystal clear and focuses, often in closeup, primarily on the musicians (always a plus for me) but there is plenty of opportunity to observe both Argerich and Chailly.
This DVD is a keeper.