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Die Berliner Philharmoniker - Europakonzert 1996, St. Petersburg
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Europakonzert 1996 - Mariinskij Theater in St. Petersburg Solisten: Anatoly Kocherga, Bariton Kolja Blacher, Violine Prokoviev: Highlights aus "Romeo Und Julia" Rachmaninov: Alekos Cavatina aus "Aleko" Beethoven: Romanze für Violine und Orchester Tschaikowski: Blumenwalzer aus "Der Nußknacker" Dokumentation
Europakonzert 1996 - Mariinskij Theater in St. Petersburg
Solisten: Anatoly Kocherga, Bariton
Kolja Blacher, Violine
Prokoviev: Highlights aus "Romeo Und Julia"
Rachmaninov: Alekos Cavatina aus "Aleko"
Beethoven: Romanze für Violine und Orchester
Tschaikowski: Blumenwalzer aus "Der Nußknacker"
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To my great surprise, that's not true with this disc capturing a 1996 visit of the Berlin Philharmonic to St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre. It's the best I've seen from the period and on par with Blu-rays from just a few years ago. Even after EuroArts' reformatting of the image to the 16:9 aspect ratio that fills HDTV screens, the picture remains generally sharp and detailed. Perhaps the source material was high-grade film instead of video. In any case, we are the beneficiaries. The sound, while limited to PCM Stereo, is also excellent.
As I've mentioned in my reviews before, I consider Claudio Abbado, at the podium here, one of the greats and the Berlin Philharmonic arguably the best orchestra in the world. If you agree, then this disc (which I received a review copy of) is self-recommending, particularly since the technical aspects are so strong.
The evening starts off with a peppy performance of excerpts from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet." Abbado plays up the modern aspects -- there are times when it seems cinematic and jazzy.
That's followed by the rarely performed and quite beautiful aria from the Rachmaninov opera "Aleko." Unfortunately, there are no subtitles, but Ukranian bass Anatoly Kocherga conveys all the emotional shadings through his vibrant singing.
The two romances for violin and orchestra by Beethoven are delightful in then-concertmaster Kolja Blacher's sensitive hands, serving as an appetizer for the main course: the Symphony No. 7. As it happens, I recently reviewed Simon Rattle's take on the work with the same orchestra: Europakonzert 2008 From Moscow [Blu-ray]. The difference in timings tells an interesting tale. Abbado's first and last movements are about a couple of minutes longer. He takes a more period approach, emphasizing the work's Classical qualities and staying measured and consistent from start to finish. Rattle, on the other hand, is a Romantic through and through, always looking for ways to crank up the suspense through variations in dynamics and rhythm. In my opinion, Abbado's interpretation is exciting and Rattle's is thrilling, so I'm happy to have them both.
To keep up the meal analogy, the evening ends with a small, tasty dessert: the Waltz of the Flowers from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker."
This disc also contains a documentary about St. Petersburg and its music scene up to 1995, focusing on its lack of financial resources at the time and playing up the few connections to the Berlin Philharmonic. It's been reformatted to the 16:9 aspect ratio and the picture is very fuzzy. The narrator calls it an "intermission film" at one point, so perhaps it was shown with the original TV broadcast of the Berlin Philharmonic performance. The content is of some interest (there's even a short interview with the young Valery Gergiev), although obviously it's very dated. EuroArts doesn't make much of the documentary -- it's not called out as a bonus feature and is only mentioned on the disc case under the running time.