Notes and Editorial Reviews
HERBERT VON KARAJAN
In Rehearsal and Performance
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219 (Rehearsal and Performance)
Yehudi Menuhin, violin
Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
Antonín Dvo?ák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, "From the New World" (Rehearsal and Performance)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
Recorded in 1966.
Filmed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Combining the forces of two of the 20th century´s greatest musicians – Yehudi Menuhin and Herbert von Karajan in their only recorded performance together –
this magnificent programme marks a high point in filmed classical music. Both features, Mozart´s Violin Concerto No. 5 and Dvorák´s “New World” Symphony, were directed by master film-maker and long-time Karajan collaborator Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear).
- Herbert von Karajan in conversation with Yehudi Menuhin (on Mozart, in English) and Prof. Joachim Kaiser (on Dvo?ák, in German)
Special bonus feature:
- Previously unreleased rehearsal session prior to Violin Concerto No. 5!
Picture format: NTSC 4:3 B/W (mastered from an HD source, original filmed in 35mm)
Sound format: PCM Stereo / PCM Mono (rehearsal)
Subtitles: English (Kaiser interview) / German (Menuhin interview)
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Running time: 69 mins (performance) + 38 mins (rehearsal)
No. of DVDs: 1
R E V I E W:
Violin Concerto No. 5
Symphony No. 9 in e,
Herbert von Karajan, cond;
Yehudi Menuhin (vn);
UNITEL 704008, mono (DVD: 69:00
Text and Translation)
Karajan & Menuhin discuss the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5. Rehearsal excerpt of Mozart Concerto. Karajan & Joachim Kaiser discuss Dvo?ák’s Symphony No. 9
This remarkable DVD captures not only the lone collaboration between Karajan and Menuhin, but two of the five performance films directed by the brilliant Henri-Georges Clouzot. The second page of the booklet and back cover of the DVD case list both performances as 1966, but the liner notes clearly state that the Mozart concerto dates from 1965. The films are black and white, the sound is mono, yet both the visual and audio elements of these performances continue to impress after 45 years.
The Mozart was shot in a somewhat large drawing room, fixed up to simulate the 18th century, including hordes of candles. Members of the Vienna Symphony surround Karajan in a semicircle as he conducts them. Menuhin is placed front and center, closer to our perspective. I liked Menuhin’s Mozart performances of the 1930s, but was not very convinced of Karajan as a Mozart conductor in those years. His strings always sounded just a little too lush (and, as this film shows, it wasn’t so much the size of the section as the textural balance and shimmering vibrato) and his rhythmic accents always seemed too rounded, not sharp enough. I had the same caveats about his supposedly “classic” recording of the Mozart Horn Concertos with Dennis Brain, not to mention his various Mozart opera performances, at least until the 1980s when he modified his approach, producing sharper accents and less heavily vibrant strings. (I consider his 1985 Salzburg
to be a masterpiece in its own way.) Whether or not Menuhin himself changed his approach, or was influenced to some extent by Karajan, his own playing here is also more rounded and less incisive than in his earlier recordings. Of course, the playing is extraordinarily beautiful in its own way, but particularly in the second movement, everything floats as if on a cloud—very pretty, attractive to the ear, but not particularly Mozartian. Even the fast final portion of the concerto has too many string swells, too many rallentandos, too much smoothness. The camera moves around, not too quickly or quirkily, to show different angles of the performance and thus keep up visual interest.
The Dvo?ák begins with a close-up of one of the cellists’ instrument and bow. The opening is, again, a little too mushy, but when Karajan begins the
section there is a little more bite. The environment doesn’t look like the Berlin Philharmonie, but rather a large room, with Karajan standing among the strings, leading in black rehearsal garb. The slow-down for the flute solo is too extreme for my taste. The brass and percussion sit on raised tiers beyond Karajan and the strings. This film doesn’t appear to be in as good shape as the Mozart; there is considerable flickering of light and dark, particularly near the beginning. All returns to lyrical sections are marked by heavy tempo deceleration. The second movement floats like the Adagio of the Mozart concerto, perhaps a shade more appropriate, but certainly not in the Czech tradition. As I mentioned, Karajan was to become an outstanding conductor late in his career, but he passed through this phase of contour-softening on his way to a leaner, more style-appropriate approach. The third movement is much of the same. Only in the last movement does the orchestra wake up and play with incisive rhythm.
The extras, also directed by Clouzot, show exactly why Karajan’s style was so corrupted in those days. At the start of the rehearsal sequence, he instructs the strings to play the first note as a fermata. Why? There’s no musically sound reason for it. Then he explains to Menuhin how he wants the musical “shape” of his first phrase to “blend into” the flute. Why blend? Every time the string players’ instinct is to play a sharper accent, Karajan pulls them back. In their conversation, Menuhin admits that he enjoys being “led” by a great conductor, even if the conception
is not his own,
because he feels it is an inspiration. He felt he could grow as an artist that way. I’m not sure I agree that such an approach to Mozart could help one grow, merely to see the music in a different light—not the style of the composer—which is not the same thing, but that’s just my opinion.
Karajan’s conversation with musicologist Joachim Kaiser on the Dvo?ák Ninth is much more interesting. The conductor tries to determine how much of the score is genuine folk music, how much was made up by Dvo?ák, and whether or not a conductor should interpret it in the folk style or the classical style. Kaiser discuses the difference between Falla, who once said that if he wanted real folk melodies he had to write them himself, and Chopin, for whom Polish folk music was “deadly serious” and a constant stimulus for his creativity. Karajan touches on the subject of the second movement, whether it contains Indian music or American Negro (Africa-American) music. Kaiser feels that American musicologists magnify it too much because they are so proud that Dvo?ák created something like “their” music, but Karajan rightly judges that Dvo?ák himself is partly to blame for this, as he gave contradictory and simplistic explanations for those themes. Neither one of them mentions that the famous melody in the second movement was not
on an African-American spiritual, but that the spiritual evolved from the symphony. They do discuss, however, that 19th-century interpretations of music tended toward the poetic and the fantastic; people were less apt to hear “music as music,” and Kaiser points out that pentatonic themes, though seemingly familiar, were not really common in classical music of that era. It’s an interesting discussion and, to me, one of the best parts of the disc.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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