46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Europa Konzert From Palermo (DVD)Words rarely fail me. But I'm almost speechless with delight over this DVD of the Europa-Konzert (European Concert) given May 1, 2002 in the magnificent newly-restored Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily. Everything about it delights.
The Europa-Konzert is a Berlin Philharmonic tradition. Every May 1st they give a concert in some city in Europe to commemorate the founding of their orchestra on May Day 1882. Up to now the Lisbon Concert conducted by Pierre Boulez had been my favorite, but this one takes the prize. It is conducted by Claudio Abbado, and was the last one he conducted before he ended his twelve-year reign as music director of the orchestra. He had been through a major illness, and looks gaunt, although he sports a deep tan. There has always been something saintly about Abbado's appearance but that is enhanced here. And certainly one who knows his health problems is all the more tempted to give him some slack for sentimental reasons. But there is no reason to do that here. This is a superlative concert, both for the orchestra's playing and for Abbado's conception of the works presented.
The concert begins with an exciting performance of Beethoven's 'Egmont' Overture. 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. 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 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.
After a thunderous ovation from the Palermo audience, Abbado returns to the stage to lead an encore, the aptly chosen Overture to Verdi's 'Sicilian Vespers.'
A few other comments. In Abbado's tenure with the orchestra there was a huge turnover in personnel as many of Karajan's stalwarts retired. Seventy new musicians joined the orchestra while Abbado was there, most of them quite young. Emanuel Pahud, the new principal flutist, was only 23 when he joined, and of course he has now forged a huge career as a concertizing soloist as well. From the looks of it, Wollenweber couldn't be more than mid-twenties, but such playing! But the most notable thing is the incredible quality of the playing. This orchestra breathes together, performs with split-second synchronization that may be the best in the world, and with deep musicianship. Every serious music lover has a list of 'before I die I want to hear ...' list. Mine includes hearing the Berlin Philharmonic live in concert. What an orchestra!
Well, enough gushing, particularly for someone who started out saying he was lost for words. I don't often say this, but I urge anyone who loves great orchestral playing to get this DVD.
TT = 112 minutes. Sound formats include DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM stereo. Sound quality is excellent. Videography and direction for TV is crisp and inobtrusive. Extra: a very nice twenty minute documentary about Palermo, focusing primarily on the arts, architecture and music primarily.