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DVD Review

Johannes Brahms

Europa Konzert from Athens

  • Concerto for Piano #1
  • Piano Quartet #1 (Orchestration: Arnold Schoenberg
Daniel Barenboim, piano
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle
EuroArts DVD 2053658 LPCM Stereo ; Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 NTSC/PAL; Anamorphic Widescreen
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This DVD presents a vivid account of the May 1, 2004 concert at the Atticus Odeon, Athens, Greece by Daniel Barenboim, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. For those not familiar with this historic location, it is an amphitheater situated at the foot of a hill, and thus not necessarily conducive to good recording. Yet, the EuroArts engineers have captured the performances in detailed sound, with the piano and orchestra in excellent balance and with much depth and brilliance all around.

Barenboim's Brahms First is a tad on the slow side and some of his playing verges on the cautious. Yet, in the end, his performance is packed with drama and darkness – two qualities that must come through in the first movement of this youthful but tragic work. And he deftly captures both the mixture of poetry and tension in the second movement and the energy and grandeur of the Classical-minded finale. Rattle abets him well and his Berlin players turn in splendid performances. I still favor Rubinstein in his 1954 performance on RCA, with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and I can't overlook the Serkin/Szell, from around a decade or so later. Both are leaner efforts but, of course, feature less vivid sound.

Rattle and his orchestra turn in a fine account of the other work here, Schoenberg's realization of Brahms' First Piano Quartet. Again, the sound is fine. Speaking of the sound, I should mention that there is a constant chirping of birds in the background, noticeable in softer passages. It does not distract from the performances, though, unless you happen to be overly sensitive to such things.

The camera work is intelligently handled throughout and the viewer certainly gains a sense of the famous Greek site, with its stone structure and profound history. There is a bonus feature on this DVD entitled The European Concert in Olympic Athens, with narration in German and subtitles in English and other languages. It is an eighteen-minute documentary, the first half largely about the surrounding architecture and culture, and the latter about concerts presented by the Berlin Philharmonic on May 1, the day each year on which the group performs at a different major European location. It contains some interesting commentary by both Barenboim and Rattle, and shows snippets from concerts featuring Domingo, Sarah Chang, Claudio Abbado and others. Recommended.

Copyright © 2005, Robert Cummings