By the looks of it, this BelAir Classiques release had to be a true winner – three all-Tchaikovsky concerts of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic under their music director Yuri Temirkanov, recorded live on tour in Paris. Recent concert footage of this famous Russian formation is still quite rare, so three discs documenting the Philharmonic in their core repertory are most welcome. Yet as soon as you open the DVDs, you realize there is trouble ahead. "Unlike what is stated in the opening and closing credits of the program the orchestra conducted by Yuri Temirkanov is the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra", warns the paper sleeve. The screen credits indeed claim this is the St. Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra, but to make sure (and for the better) it is the more famous Philharmonic alright. By opening the keep cases we also learn these concerts were already filmed as long ago as December 2007 during a stint at the Paris Théâtre des Champs Elysées. The Russian orchestra and Temirkanov are regular guests at this Paris venue, yet why it took almost seven years to release these films will remain a mystery.
The DVDs come without any booklets or notes about music or artists. Worse, the programs don't have navigation menus and accessing the different tracks is as secure as playing Russian roulette. (Actually, on one player I could only access the even paired tracks.) The mastering seems to have been as much of a rush job as anything else. Time between the tracks is too short, often jumping to the next movement, while the end applause is broken off abruptly for the credits. Even worse, the claim of PCM stereo on the keep cases is false; all three DVDs are in mono – DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1, anyone?
Although I have come to appreciate the titles released by BelAir Classiques (especially the HD Collection of the Bolshoi Ballet), these DVDs are by any standard (never mind the 21st century) below par. Captured by a Russian team (directed by one Andrey Torstensen), these are some of the most unimaginative concert films I have seen in a long time. They already did better in the 1970s. Sometimes capturing the wrong musicians playing, the images add little or nothing to the sound and, if we wouldn't know better, question the value of having concerts filmed for home-video. Definition is poor especially in longshots. The opaque mono sound cannot do justice to the particular sonority of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and only gives a vague idea of the live concert experience.
All the more a shame then, because these are magnificent, exciting performances. I could easily have lived without that pointless transcription of the Variations on a Rococo Theme for trumpet, but all the rest is pretty essential stuff, led by Temirkanov with cool authority and imagination. Watching his waving-hands conducting style is a spectacle in itself. Denis Matsuev joins for a solid, at times wayward reading of the First Piano Concerto, but here too there is plenty to enjoy even if the sound recording does neither of them any favors.
In short, a missed opportunity.
Copyright © 2014, Marc Haegeman