Notes and Editorial Reviews
Overture; Christmas Tree; March; Pas de deux.
Piano Concerto No. 3.
Le sacre du printemps.
Sir Simon Rattle, cond; Yefim Bronfman (pn);
MEDICI ARTS 2057758 (DVD: 104:00) Live: Waldbühne, Berlin 6/21/2009
This open-air summer concert was apparently predestined for video release, as it came from the Waldbühne in June to my DVD player in December of the same year. Apparently, the weather was ugly—storm clouds presaging the arrival of heavy rains—but the concert bore no trace of weather-fright. Praised by German critics for re-establishing precision to the Berlin forces, Simon Rattle nevertheless forsakes the weightier orchestral tone of his German predecessors. In the tradition of famed British conductors before him (Beecham, Boult, Sargent, and Britten), Rattle prefers a leaner, more transparent sound, which he has over the years invested with an ever-growing interpretive skill.
On the podium, he appears to be a happy conductor, all smiles and light gestures. Occasionally he stops beating time to bask in the fine sound of the massed forces. In a lesser talent I might see this as an affectation, but for Rattle it is as much an expression of his essentially sunny temperament as his joy in music-making. In common with many conductors who perform
excerpts in concert, his tempos are a shade too fast, which makes for invigorating listening but would drive a dancer to despair. On the other hand, the elfin touch he brings to the musically pedantic and often dark Rachmaninoff Third completely transforms this concerto. Neither for him nor pianist Bronfman the darkly brooding, almost menacing quality that Vladimir Horowitz brought out in what is surely one of his few truly great recordings (the 1930 performance with Albert Coates); even the descending chromatics in the first movement are handled with a sense of momentary shadow that dissolves into the shards of a brightly lit rainbow. Bronfman, sensing the feel of Rattle’s interpretation, likewise shades the music with melancholy but does not dwell on it. In the end, a fairly mundane piece is thus transformed into a play of light and dark that congeals into a remarkably pleasing whole. I must also disagree with those German critics who, trying to be cute, dub the pianist “Bronfman the Brontosaurus” and suggest that he crushes the keyboard. As powerful as several passages are, Bronfman has an offsetting delicacy of touch. I’m not sure if other critics hear his closer affinity to Gilels (and, to my ears, Lipatti, who could play more powerfully than we choose to remember) than to real keyboard-crushers like Horowitz or Richter at their most excessive. I for one hear it as a breath of fresh air. The last movement practically explodes in a riot of colors, like a
at Cinco de Mayo.
Lightness of touch and unaccustomed airiness also mark Rattle’s version of
In his hands, it bears a closer resemblance to Debussy’s
than to the earthier interpretations of Kent Nagano, Valery Gergiev, or Stravinsky’s own 1929 recording. In a way it reminds me of Richard Krauss’s conducting of Strauss’s
but even a bit lighter. I’m not sure that, overall, it is appropriate, but it certainly is interesting. By lightening the timbre, Rattle elicits all manner of detail often obscured, and plays with the rhythm. What it lacks in raw power is compensated for by a shimmer of color. Different ears may disagree with me.
I was absolutely thrilled to see not only the size of the crowd—even with the threat of thunderstorms, every nook and cranny of the Waldbühne was packed—but also its casual look and age diversity. I’m sure that several hundred of these listeners can’t usually afford the Philharmonie prices for the indoor concerts, but here they were, picnic baskets and Tupperware containers filled with salads and other goodies, not only enjoying the music but really getting into it. Even when the rains came and the darkness settled, during part II of
they stuck around, and at the end, there were a
of happy smiles, whistles, and cheers, especially during the encore piece
Granted, the age diversity didn’t include a great many 20-somethings, but some were there nonetheless. This is a good sign; I only hope they weren’t all music students. Considering the phlegmatic weather conditions, the sound engineers outdid themselves. For the Rachmaninoff Third alone, highly recommended.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Op. 71 (excerpts)
Sergei Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps
Yefim Bronfman, piano
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Simon Rattle, conductor
Recorded live at the Waldbühne, Berlin, 21 June 2009.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 104 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)