Notes and Editorial Reviews
Also available on Blu-ray
Andris Nelsons is one of the most sought-after young conductors on the international scene today and once again served notice of his extraordinary talent in Summer 2011 when he conducted two concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam at the prestigious Lucerne Festival. This concert, available on DVD and Blu-ray features, amongst a programme of Rimsky-Korsakov, Beethoven and Dvo?ák, the GRAMMY® Award-winning pianist Yefim Bronfman performing Beethoven’s majestic Piano Concerto No 5 and Chopin’s Etude in F major.
Ludwig van Beethoven:
The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113:
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73, “Emperor”
Frydéryk Chopin: Etude in F major, Op. 10, No. 8
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Op. 35
Antonín Dvo?ák: Slavonic Dance in A flat major, Op. 46, No. 3
Yefim Bronfman, piano
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Andris Nelsons, conductor
Recorded live at the Concert Hall, KKL Luzern, 5 September 2011
during the Lucerne Festival in Summer, 2011
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 110 mins
No. of DVDs: 1
R E V I E W S:
Still reeling from the previous night’s concert I was eager to hear Nelsons and the Concertgebouw in this mix of Classical and Romantic pieces. They are joined by the Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman, who I’ve not heard in a very long time. I tend to associate him with the Russians – notably Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich – but he has recorded a fine version of the Beethoven concerto with David Zinman and his Zurich band (Arte Nova). As for the Rimsky, it’s one of those showpieces that seldom fails to please; and if the sonics of that earlier Blu-ray are anything to go by it should be a knock-out.
The Ruins of Athens, written to accompany August von Kotzebue’s play of the same name, is hardly a Beethovenian staple, but when it’s played with such affection it’s hard to understand why. Right from those opening figures on the double basses it’s clear this is going to be a performance of spontaneity and spirit, the camera cutting to key players when they get the chance to shine. And shine they do, the Concertgebouw as animated as they were the night before. On the podium Nelsons is equally alert, his boyish grin a sign that he’s having fun.
And who wouldn’t, with such thoroughbreds between the shafts? As for the concerto, a warhorse that seldom gets the performance it deserves, it’s played with tremendous brio. Bronfman fingerwork is clear and unmannered, and the orchestra responds with alacrity to Nelsons’ firm tug of the reins. Balances are generally fine, although the brass and woodwinds tend to leap out in the tuttis – some unnecessary knob-twiddling, perhaps – and the bass is not as firm as I’d like. Otherwise the Allegro is both passionate and elegant, and tempi are well judged; there’s plenty of thrust too, although at times momentum does flag.
Such lapses are rare though, Nelsons’ whipping his wayward steeds into line quickly enough. That said, the Adagio and Rondo-Allegro are more problematic. In the former the flute passage before the piano’s first entry is absurdly out of proportion – more intervention, perhaps – and Nelsons moulds the music far too much for my tastes. Yes it
is beautiful, but it’s cloying and comes close to limpidity overload; as for Bronfman, his phrasing at the start of the Rondo is less easeful than usual. Even more distracting is the fitful progress, the music lacking the cumulative weight and growing tension one hears in other – more compelling – performances. It seems the audience have no such qualms though, demanding an encore. Bronfman duly obliges with a coruscating rendition of Chopin’s Etude in F major.
I so wanted to wallow in this concerto but alas I’m not likely to return to it in a hurry. At least there’s a consolation prize in the form of
Scheherazade, whose terrifying start nearly blew me out of my seat. Having set the volume to a comfortable level for the Beethoven I was not prepared for such an assault on my senses; goodness, this really is Rimsky for the IMAX age, the brass- and timp-drenched climaxes simply crushing. The quieter moments are just as arresting, the Sultana’s beguiling narrative superbly evoked by the violin and harp.
As for ‘The Story of the Kalender Prince’ it’s packed with incident and colour, the many close-ups a reminder of just how virtuosic this piece is, and how exposed players are at times. There’s firm. characterful playing from the woodwinds, and the formidable battery of trombones sounds especially baleful. The big, bold recording handles these dynamic swings with aplomb, although anyone of a nervous disposition – or with unsympathetic neighbours – might want to reduce the volume by a couple of notches. As always, Nelsons is engrossed in the music, and it’s impossible not to succumb to his obvious and infectious enthusiasm.
That’s one of the unexpected joys of this concert; everyone is clearly having fun. What a change from those stiff-backed performers, stern of countenance, we see all too often. The tender music of ‘The Young Prince and the Young Princess’ is most eloquently done, and Nelsons shapes the dance-like episodes very persuasively. It’s the final movement, with its festival and shipwreck, that will take your breath away. The intimidating roar of this orchestra in full spate really confirms the sonic potential of Blu-ray; indeed, I’ve never heard that dash of spray, crack of sail and final cataclysm as powerfully realised as it is here. Those final, sinuous bars – as if enclosing these tales in parentheses – are simply overwhelming in their simplicity and charm.
Not surprisingly the audience demands – and gets – an encore in the shape of one of the Slavonic Dances from Dvor(ák’s Op. 46. It’s a polka, now winsome now trenchant, its storming conclusion a thrilling coda to an exhilarating concert. That said, Nelsons still looks as fresh as a daisy, and his players don’t seem to have wilted either. Despite the rather disappointing concerto I’m very impressed by this multi-talented Latvian; he can certainly batter one’s ear drums – the Rimsky is indeed a knock-out – but as the previous night’s Shostakovich Eighth and his 50th anniversary
War Requiem so eloquently demonstrate, he can batter one’s heart as well.
A delightful overture, a competent concerto, and a
Scheherazade to die for.
-- Dan Morgan, MusicWeb International
Reviewing DVD version
I was very much taken with this DVD from the very first note. As a production it is first-rate, recorded at the Lucerne Festival Concert Hall in plummy and delicious sound throughout. To his credit, the video director appears to have decided, correctly, that Andris Nelsons is the real subject. Nelsons is one of those conductors upon whose face everything important in the music is written. He is beyond fascinating to watch. The emotions play on his face with the directness and sense of wonder of a six-year-old. To use Salonen’s by now well-used phrase, in Nelsons we find a true “conducting animal.”
Nelsons stands tall, with the seeming dignity of a Thielemann. At times he gazes into the mystical middle-distance, like Furtwängler. But most commonly he resembles a diabolical child presiding over a war of tin soldiers with unbelievable amazement and glee. The openness of his facial expressions is astonishingly effective. There is a good bit of Carlos Kleiber’s special joy in this. Frequently Nelsons doesn’t conduct at all. When he does, it is as much with trembling eyebrows or quivering baton held over the top of his head as with traditional gestures. Quickly, one realizes that Nelsons seeks two things: spontaneous life and the rounded, long line. The most telling moment for understanding this is the first really big climax in Scheherazade. As the music swells grandly, a slow arc of Nelson’s baton over his head is the only real motion—and impossible to resist. I would defy any orchestra to play coldly or choppily beneath a pulse like this.
And indeed it doesn’t. This is romantic music-making at its best. The Beethoven overture and concerto are given lovely readings. Bronfman is a powerful pianist but has always had a soft rolling tone when needed, as here. There is a beautiful, rapt quality in the slow movement and a gentle ease to the Chopin encore.
But the performance of Scheherazade really impresses one the most. The Concertgebouw has a happy history with this piece, even managing to lure spontaneous beauty in it from Bernard Haitink in the 1970s. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better rendition than this. You can see the players are really enjoying themselves under Nelsons. And the interpretation is the very definition of musical ebb and flow. I would happily listen to no other, if it came to that. The Dvo?ák encore brings the concert to a close, smooth and svelte. What beauty of tone this orchestra reveals!
But this DVD reminds one that listening and watching are two sides of the same musical coin. Andris Nelsons’s childlike spontaneity—sweaty, even awkward at times (he tends to shove his can in the audience’s direction)—could move the deaf!
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Works on This Recording
Scheherazade, Op. 35 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Written: 1888; Russia
Ruins of Athens, Op. 113: Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Written: 1811; Vienna, Austria
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