Notes and Editorial Reviews
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherazade. BEETHOVEN The Ruins of Athens: Overture. Piano Concerto No. 5. DVO?ÁK Slavonic Dance, op. 46/3 • Andris Nelsons, cond; Yefim Bronfman (pn); Concertgebouw O • UNITEL C MAJOR 710108 (DVD: 110) Live: Lucerne 9/5/2011
CHOPIN Etude in F, op. 10/8
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!
FANFARE: Steven Kruger