Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Schubert Symphony No 9 in C Major D 944/Mass No 6 in E Flat Major D950|
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Mainsteam Classics in Mainstream, and Moving, Performances
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 08/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Karl Böhm (1894-1981) was an unprepossessing Austrian conductor who looked like a mid-level bureaucrat, conducted in an understated way and didn't call much attention to himself in his personal life. No podium choreography for him. He was a specialist in central European classics -- Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Richard Strauss -- and conducted lots of Schubert. These two performances, originally filmed for Austrian television, have some notable virtues, among them absolutely mainstream performances, intelligent vidoeography and sound that was excellent for its time.
Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C Major, the so-called 'Great', is certainly one of the giant masterworks of the first half of the nineteenth century. The story of how it lay unplayed in a drawer until Schumann discovered it and urged its performance in 1839, thirteen years after Schubert's death, is well known. It was laughed at by orchestral players in London and Paris shortly after that; they wouldn't even finish rehearsing it. New York actually heard it before Paris or London. In fifteen years, though, it had established itself as one of the great symphonies in the repertoire and it has never ceased to be popular. There have been many recordings of the work, but I feel that it is helpful to actually SEE a performance (of this and any other work, one reason I review lots of non-opera DVDs here at Amazon) and certainly that was the case with a recently reviewed DVD led by Günter Wand. This performance by Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic is very like that one of Wand, and no matter how good Wand's North German Radio Symphony is, the VPO is better. One could not ask for better playing. Of course this orchestra has programmed it literally dozens of times over the years. This 1973 performance was filmed in the Musikvereinssaal, the VPO's home. From the opening motto theme played softly by two horns to the rousing finish of the whirlwind finale, this is a marvelous performance. Every note, every inflection, every dynamic alteration is perfectly in place. Böhm's style is minimalist but if one watches closely one sees tiny gestures that convey his intentions -- a barely noticeable flick of the baton hand, a mini-smile at the principal oboe, the release of a caesura with a tiny nod, the laser-like eye contact. The film does not spend a lot of time focused on Böhm, however. We see close-ups of instruments -- often without a glimpse of the person playing it -- and occasional glimpses of the accoutrements of the hall and views of the audience. This is not an outré performance that sets out to say something new or shocking, but it is one to live with.
The second work here is Schubert's less-performed, but no less beautiful, Mass No. 6 in E Flat, D950. The performance is slightly unusual in that not only does the Vienna Boys Choir replace the usual female members of the chorus, but also two unnamed boy singers take the treble solo lines, singing with tenors Peter Schreier and Werner Kremm and baritone Walter Berry. In the 'Et incarnatus est' section of the Credo the boy soprano and the two tenors combine gloriously, the boy holding his own with the two men and conveying a feeling of awe to the text. The men's choir of the Hofmusikkapelle, where the performance was recorded, provide the deep choral voices. Videography is slightly more active in this 1976 film. One nice touch is that at appropriate moments in the text various statues in the Hofkapelle are shown, as when the soloists and choir are singing of the crucifixion we see a particularly graphic statue of the crucified Jesus. Or at the words 'and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man' a statue of the baby Jesus being held by Mary is shown. At that lovely spot in the score the strings of the reduced VPO are ineffably tender. This is a moving performance of a moving work.
One is glad to have visual as well as audio evidence of Karl Böhm's mastery. This is a valuable document for that reason alone. Add to that the effectiveness of the performances and you have a DVD to watch again and again.