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  • Claudio Abbado: Mahler - Symphony No. 4/Schoenberg - Pelleas and Melisande
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Claudio Abbado: Mahler - Symphony No. 4/Schoenberg - Pelleas and Melisande

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

What makes Abbado's Mahler performances so remarkable is that their impact is never achieved at the
expense of the multiple sensitivities, subtleties and extreme sophistication.
Together with one of the world's leading youth orchestras the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester
Abbado performs Mahler's Fourth Symphony and Schoenberg's Pelleas und Melisande, the latter being
preceded by an introduction that offers fascinating insights into this unparalleled composition.
The Fourth Symphony is well established in the international concerts repertory and it is the most
recorded of Mahler's symphonies, right after the First Symphony. Pelleas und Melisande is a masterpiece
in the romantic style of Schoenberg's first period.


The DVD is a killer invention suited to a killer musical program. It is helpful to our understanding the drama of opera, movies, and symphonic works performed by a symphony orchestra. It is easy to see how "catching on" to an opera (or a feature film) depends on the body language and facial expressions of the players. It's more difficult to explain how a video representation of an orchestra at play helps us "get" a mostly auditory experience. Some people use orchestral music to fall asleep by, after all. Others like to watch the byplay of the musicians, how they hand off to one another. Some insist watching an orchestra play is as exciting as watching jazz musicians play off one another. How does this work?

Maybe it has to do with showing a long shot of an entire orchestra (and the interior of Vienna's fabled Grosser Musikvereinsaal), then showing a medium shot where a whole (or most) of a string section, say, may be squeezed into the image; then zooming to three or four players making eye contact with each other and the conductor, bobbing their heads in perfect unison to keep the beat; and then zooming in closer so we might see two violinists with their left hands at work in perfect synchronicity, their bowing right hands going up and down metronomically in order to deliver the notes with precision of attack. The music ebbs and flows, quickens and slows; and a good TV director uses his score to know when to pan, and when to zoom from a large group shot to a small group--from a "smiley face" to a "hands only" shot; faster and faster, orchestra play facilitates our perception and is almost as stimulating as hearing the audio alone, say, through a radio broadcast in a car. The video keeps us awake, focused, and into the music.

This is what we get in this DVD of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester under Claudio Abbado (its founder), playing Mahler's Symphony No. 4 and Arnold Schoenberg's Pelleas und Melisande. Moreover, in a 15-minute introduction to Pelleas, the narrator explains how the Maeterlinck work prompted the album's producers to "use images both directly inspired by Maeterlinck's play (by Marianne Stokes, Khnopff, or Schwabe) and more generally related to it (works by Lacombe, Fabry, Delville, Redon, Kokoschka, Klimt, Munch, and Schiele, as well as Schoenberg's own paintings)." And a representative sample of these is shown during the explanatory Introduction. This is an exciting way to demonstrate how a group of paintings lends verisimilitude to an otherwise dry and bald-faced narrative. It is an extravagant hook by which to engage the listener, having perhaps two dozen of these iconic paintings in one place where one can examine them individually on the big screen, hi-rez TV monitor. Plus the two musical selections one can watch being performed. Use of paintings, as graphic representations of the emotions the musical artists try to evoke, might be the shrewdest way to take advantage of opportunities presented by the DVD medium. Couch potatoes might even get up off their, er, um, sofas in order to freeze-frame each painting to inspect it more closely. As Kate Smith might have sung, "God Bless the DVD."

As to the music-making: I have considerable shelf space dedicated to Mahler's Fourth. It is one of Oblomov's favorites. I know this Symphony like my tongue knows the back of my incisors. Abbado takes his forces through the performance with great élan and joie de vivre, and you can see the delight on his face as his players deliver the first three movements crisply, and in top form. The musicians are the skimmed crème de la crème of the European conservatory system, each less than 26 years old, and soon to fill many chairs in Europe's symphony orchestras.

The final movement might be considered a 10-minute song, and it certainly stands alone as sung by Juliane Banse, a soprano whose international successes are already numerous. Her instrument is one of a young woman, and while this sleigh ride suggests the play of children, her voice makes it sound somewhat romantic. Think of bundling with your significant other under a horsehair blanket in an open sleigh on a cold night in the Vienna woods. The timbre of Banse's voice suggests something more than a child's "folksong-like description of Paradise." She is one of those "special" sopranos that come along infrequently, and her performance of "Das himmlishe Leben" (Afterlife in Heaven) is one to remember, a fitting finale to a glowingly rendered symphony.

Arnold Schoenberg's lyrically charged symphonic poem, Pelleas und Melisande, comes from his "late-Romantic, post-Wagnerian" period (when he was 28), and precedes his work with 12-tone music, so fear not. This music is programmatic in that it follows the plot of the Maeterlinck play. Its seven sections are titled: "A forest," "A fountain in the park," "A castle tower," "The castle vaults," "Pelleas and Melisande (love scene and farewell)," "Golaud spies on the lovers," and "Melisande dies in her room." It has motifs for destiny, love, jealousy, marriage, etc., and themes that follow the main characters: Pelleas, Melisande, and Golaud. Sometimes, when all this music overlaps, it becomes turgid and too Wagnerian for me. Okay. So the true lovers are doomed. Sometimes it happens that way, even in real life. But in life, it is often mercifully briefer. Still, the performance of the Pelleas score is first-class, and the orchestra shines through all that destiny and Schoenberg have to offer. It is engagingly played, if in spots bombastic and too long.

I don't want to have my interpretation of Pelleas dissuade would-be purchasers from this album. Schoenberg fans will dismiss it. I feel the introduction to Pelleas alone is worth the price of admission, and the Mahler Fourth is so top-notch it is one of those "small miracles" that happen sometimes in live recording sessions. With those few reservations, I'm glad to say this DVD album is heartily recommended. -- Fanfare, Ilya Oblomov, Jan-Feb 2010

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Mahler, Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Abbado
  • Directors: Huslcher
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: German (Dolby Digital 5.1), German (DTS 5.1), German (PCM Stereo)
  • Subtitles: German, English, French
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: EuroArts
  • DVD Release Date: July 28, 2009
  • Run Time: 113 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #147,570 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Michael Birman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 7, 2009
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EuroArts has been releasing these live performances of Mahler symphonies over the past few years. This release is the latest. Abbado conducts the fabulous Gustave Mahler Jugendorchester, a collection of some of Europe's finest young musicians. The performances are so good that seeing all of those young faces is almost stunning on some level. Surely musicians this young cannot be so accomplished? But they are and they are perfectly capable of producing all of the emotion, all of the beauty and all of the sheer complexity of these two masterworks.

Schoenberg's massive tone poem Pelleas and Melisande is based on the same drama that Debussy adapted for his opera. It follows the story faithfully. EuroArts has provided a superb 15 minute introduction which includes onscreen dialog, artworks dating from the turn of the 20th Century when this work was composed and incisive analysis. The performance of this slightly overwrought, highly chromatic but still completely tonal work with its immense orchestra could not be bettered. It is a truly remarkable performance on every level. Abbado's ability to interpret musically difficult moments that are emotionally evocative even while they are harmonically ambiguous stems from his many years in the opera house.

The Mahler Fourth Symphony is the most innocent of all of Mahler's symphonies. With a manageable orchestra of relatively modest size and only a single voice required, the work is quite popular amongst orchestra directors and programmers. Soprano Juliane Banse sings the children's song in the final movement with a melancholy grace that is quite affecting. The Orchestra is superb throughout the work; especially in those emotional moments that dot the symphony which serve to remind us that this is a musical evocation of children in heaven.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ivor E. Zetler on November 23, 2009
Mahler's Fourth Symphony is his shortest and quietest. There is little of the loudness and drama found in his other symphonies and its feeling is somewhat like a pleasant walk in the country on a bright sunny day. Your response to Abbado's interpretation of the work will depend on the way you like your Mahler. If your taste is for heart on sleeve extraversion, Abbado is not the man for you. There is hardly an ounce of fat on this performance; it is a gentle, understated rendition that seems at pains to emphasize the lyrical aspects of the work. It is very well played by the estimable Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. Juliane Banse, too closely filmed at times, has a darkish voice which is not entirely suited to the part.

I turned to Bernstein's 1973 DG DVD for a comparison. Despite the substandard filming and sound, I felt that Bernstein, without going over the top,better captured the essence of the work by injecting some personality and energy into the symphony. But, as I said before, it depends the way you like your Mahler.

The Schoenberg Pelleas et Mellisande makes a valuable coupling. The actual performance is preceeded by an introduction to this somewhat difficult tone poem. Additionally, subtitles are available which explain the progress of the work. Abbado and the GMYO give an excellent rendition of Schoenberg's relatively early composition.

The sound and filming (in the same Vienna venue as the Bernstein) are excellent. Recommended with minor reservations.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Skinnydragon on October 21, 2010
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Absolutely stunning performances by very talented young musicians! Video & sound qualities are very high. My only quibble: I know what Claudio Abbado looks like and how he conducts, so a little additional video time on the musicians (who, after all, are being featured here) would have been even more satisfying.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr John Haueisen VINE VOICE on September 4, 2009
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First let me say that this DVD contains both the Mahler fourth symphony and Schoenberg's Pelleas and Melisande. I apologize that I cannot say much about P & M. I am simply unable to understand Schoenberg at this point in my life. I will say that the producers certainly did their part, making every effort to help "non-Schoenbergians" start to understand the piece. They walk you through the story with dialog (and subtitles) that will prepare you for the music, which is played very admirably by the young musicians of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester.

Mahler's 4th Symphony:

Until watching this performance, my favorite Mahler 4th DVD was Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. That performance, from the 1970s, featured Edith Mathis as the soprano. She had an elfish, mischievous attitude as she brought out the childlike aspect of this Mahler view of heaven.

Well, "Hats off, gentlemen!" There's a new great M4 in town! As you might expect, Claudio Abbado caresses each Mahler melody. The GM Youth Orchestra responds by returning that love. Really, you can see in their young faces how very much they enjoy making music with Maestro Abbado. At this point I have to add that the photography and camerawork are phenomenal: you frequently see well-placed close-ups at just the right moment.

Could it be any better? Yes. Soprano Juliane Banse succeeds wonderfully at Mahler's intention of providing "a child's view of heaven." Abbado matches Bernstein's love for Mahler, but I'd have to give this DVD a slight edge just because of the beauty which the superb photography brings to enhance an already excellent performance.
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Claudio Abbado: Mahler - Symphony No. 4/Schoenberg - Pelleas and Melisande
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