Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1927)
Violin Concerto
Symphony No.6 “Pastoral”
Isabelle Faust (violin)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Bernard Haitink
rec. live, April 2015, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
NTSC 16:9, PCM Stereo, DD5.1 & DTS5.1; Region Code 0
EUROARTS 2061298 DVD [90:00]

This DVD was filmed live in Baden-Baden. For this Easter Festival concert, the Berlin Philharmonic uses a reduced body of strings (6 double basses), with one wind player to each part. Violins are seated to Bernard Haitink’s left, violas on the outside right and cellos on the inside right. The same set of wind players play the entire concert; not always the case with the Berlin Philharmonic.

The Violin Concerto opens proceedings. Perhaps I have become attuned to the larger-than-life spotlight applied to soloists on most recordings. On the other hand Isabelle Faust may not have been caught well by the microphones. Either way, at times I had trouble hearing Ms. Faust clearly. Her playing is proficient and refined. The cadenzas she plays are not credited; the first movement cadenza is one with timpani accompaniment.

The editor must have done an admirable job cutting out the intermission and fusing the two halves of the concert, because there is no noticeable break in the applause that separates the two pieces, yet the seating plan of the orchestra is changed for the symphony. Trumpets and timpani, seated next to the oboes for the Violin Concerto, are moved to the back of the orchestra and joined by two trombones for the Pastoral Symphony. Incidentally, the first trombonist uses an alto trombone, as marked in the score, to tackle the very high first trombone part. Principal Flautist Andreas Blau, on one of the last concerts before his retirement, plays on a wooden flute presumably for its more tender tone colour; normally he opts for a metal flute.

Bernard Haitink’s manners on the podium are controlled and understated, understandable for a man of his age. The playing of the orchestra, however, is also on the understated side. The Merry Gathering of Country Folk is quite civil, and the Thunderstorm is a mild one. All of the wind principals give good performances in the solos. It is intriguing that Principal Bassoonist Stefan Schweigert switches to a plastic reed for the last movement.

Bernard Haitink gives solo bows to the principal wind players: Andreas Blau on flute, Jonathan Kelly on oboe, Wenzel Fuchs on clarinet, Stefan Schweigert on bassoon, and Stefan Dohr on horn (not credited in the video).

The camerawork is very good, with principal wind players suitably zoomed in at the right moments, although the lighting tends to be dark. The recorded sound does not favour the soloist. There is no extra feature with the DVD, and the 4-page booklet, on one folded sheet of paper, provides tracking and production information only, without any notes on the composer, the works or the performers.

Any decent new addition to the catalogue is a good thing, although this DVD is not going to challenge the top versions currently on the market.

Wai Kit Leung

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