Europakonzert 1998 [Blu-ray]
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This new release of the Europakonzert blu-ray series on recorded excellence follows the Berlin Philharmonic on their journey through the continent. This 1998 concert was recorded at the Vasa Museum harbors. The Berlin Philharmonic opened under the baton of maestro Claudio Abbado with Wagner's The Flying Dutchman followed by Tchaikovsky's The Tempest and Debussy's Nocturnes. The principal work was Verdi's Quartto Pezzi Sacri with the Swedish Radio Choir and Eric Ericson Chamber Choir.
- Aspect Ratio : 1.78:1
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : s_medNotRated NR (Not Rated)
- Product Dimensions : 6.75 x 5.3 x 0.45 inches; 4 Ounces
- Media Format : Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Classical, NTSC, Widescreen
- Run time : 2 hours and 11 minutes
- Release date : September 24, 2013
- Actors : Wagner, Swedish Radio Choir, Abbado
- Subtitles: : English, German, French
- Studio : EuroArts
- ASIN : B00EPRISQW
- Number of discs : 1
- Best Sellers Rank: #366,403 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- Customer Reviews:
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To my knowledge, the works chosen for this evening are not currently represented elsewhere on Blu-ray, but in any case, this particular performance is unlikely to be beat.
The most familiar piece is first on the program: the overture to Wagner's "Flying Dutchman." It sounds utterly fresh the way it's played here. As one expects from Abbado, everything is properly balanced but infused with passion and excitement.
That's followed by Tchaikovsky's symphonic poem "The Tempest," inspired by Shakespeare's play. It's a beautiful work, but one not often performed, which makes this definitive performance all the more something to treasure. Amazingly, Abbado conducts even this relatively unfamiliar piece, along with every other work in this performance, from memory.
Next up is Debussy's "Nocturnes," one of the most gorgeous, magical pieces of music ever written. I've gone out of my way to listen to just about every interpretation of this work, so it's no small praise when I say I rank Abbado's take in my top three. (In slots No. 1 and 2, if you're interested, are live audio performances conducted by D.E. Inghelbrecht, who had the advantage of being Debussy's close friend, and Charles Munch).
Despite a tendency not to favor choral pieces, I mightily enjoyed Verdi's "Quattro Pezzi Sacri," four separate works that are now usually performed as a cycle. They were composed over little more than a decade late in the Maestro's life. How appropriate that this particular performance is being released as we celebrate the bicentennial of Verdi's birth, because it's nothing short of magnificent. The Swedish Radio Choir and Eric Ericson Chamber Choir are exceptional, as is the Berlin Philharmonic. The final "Te Deum" is so powerful that the audience gives the performers the highest compliment -- a period of stunned silence before the rapturous applause.
This Blu-ray is part of a recent series of EuroArts releases from the Berlin Philharmonic archives of Europakonzert performances, which celebrate the orchestra's founding in 1882. When I reviewed Europakonzert 1992 [Blu-ray ], I could tell the image's original 4:3 aspect ratio had been cropped to 16:9 in order to fill the HD television screen, although it was done with care. But HDTV was starting to be used in 1998, when this Abbado concert was recorded, so I don't know what type of source material was upgraded to the 1080i image we see here. If it's not HD, it certainly looks much like other HD Blu-rays I've seen of performances from about a decade ago, where there's plenty of detail in the close-ups and a little less of it in far shots. There's one odd glitch that occasionally surfaces -- a slight slow motion effect during some close-ups of the players -- but blink and you'll miss it. The DTS 5.1 sound is excellent, even though it lacks the extra transparency in orchestral textures of more recent discs and sometimes seems a bit balanced in favor of the bass.
I was provided with a review copy of this particular disc, although I've purchased many EuroArts discs (as well as those of other classical music labels) over the years.
In fact the imaging is so good that one could be forgiven for thinking that the original must be an early example of HD but this is unlikely for 1998. However, the producer Paul Smaczny, had converted to HD cameras by 2000, so maybe! The sound is also strikingly superior relative to the two earlier recordings and has greater bite, definition and depth of sound-stage. Only the slightly tame prolonged bass drum roll at the start and end of The Tempest gives any cause for disappointment. This may however, be more of an Abbado choice rather than a recording issue.
The concert opens with a thrilling delivery of the Flying Dutchman overture which seems appropriate when given in front of the Vasa 17th century ship which is shown to be in remarkable condition. Tchaikovsky's early and rarely performed Tempest tone poem/Fantasia follows in a completely convincing and often exciting rendition. This is a tremendous example of the composer's ear for original orchestral colour. Although is has good tunes as well as exciting stormy passages, the relative obscurity of the piece is probably due more to the emphasis on orchestral sonorities at the expense of highlighting melody in the way it was done in the later Romeo, Hamlet and Francesca pieces of similar construction.
The Debussy Nocturnes receive an excellent performance although some may consider the chorus to be a bit full-blooded in volume for the Sirenes to be too convincingly alluring. The playing of the orchestra is faultless and the muted trumpets at the beginning of the Fêtes is astonishingly effective in creating an effect of extreme distance.
The concert concludes with a fine performance of Verdi's Four Sacred Pieces which far outclasses the famed Giulini performance from the 1960 on CD and one which I had to study as one of several pieces set for an external music exam. This performance is more deeply involving spiritually, better sung, played and recorded. It is arguably the best yet recorded although I have not made an extensive study of alternative readings of the music.
In summary this disc can be counted a considerable technical achievement considering it as an upgrade from pre-HD source material to Blu-ray. Its musical credentials are particularly high offering an attractive program of considerable performing quality.
I would therefore suggest that it fully deserves to be seriously considered as a potential purchase either as a first time buy or as a worthwhile upgrade. One hopes for more upgrades and conversions of earlier HD and non-HD source material to Blu-ray if this example is anything to go by. Congratulations to Euroarts for commencing this new venture.