DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

World Orchestra for Peace at BBC Proms = MAHLER: Symphonies No. 4 & 5 (2011)

It’s always nice to hear this orchestra, but in this case the program and conductor are not really suited to one another.

Published on October 11, 2012

World Orchestra for Peace at BBC Proms = MAHLER: Symphonies No. 4 & 5 (2011)

World Orchestra for Peace at BBC Proms = MAHLER: Symphonies No. 4 & 5 (2011)

Performers: Camilla Tilling, sop./ World Orch. for Peace/ Valery Gergiev
Director: Matt Woodward
Studio: Unitel Classica/ C Major 702608 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: Color 16:9
Audio: PCM stereo, DTS 5.1
All Regions
Subtitles: English, German, French, Japanese
Extra: Solti’s Vision—The World Orchestra for Peace (20:45)
Length: 133 minutes
Rating: ***

First some technical comments: though supposedly filmed in HD this video lacks the crispness I have seen in others, even those also done at the BBC Proms. The backdrop continues to look great—the Proms people know how to make the Royal Albert Hall look really spiffy. The sound, which I preferred in DTS 5.1, is not as vibrant as in some other issues though a volume boost did alleviate the problem somewhat, and sonic clarity is not an issue. The orchestra plays very well except in a couple of fast string parts that I noticed, but even the very best orchestras encounter this from time to time.

One egregious problem, to my mind, and I know it’s very personal, is the appearance of the conductor. I have been critical of Gergiev before on this topic, but this time it just overwhelms me, especially as half the time the camera is focused on him (though I must say that a lot of prep work went into this production and the camera shots are apt and very carefully calculated to good effect). Gergiev looks as though he spent the night in a pub, with that scraggly two-day beard, unkempt clerical-looking tuxedo, and Red Skelton-skit messy hair. But during the performances his hair sweats profusely—which he never wipes off, as do so many other conductors—and it drips down onto the front of his tux and looks abysmal. Why the slob? When he is interviewed he does not come across as someone who is trying to perpetuate a “mystique” of some sort—in fact he is very humble–so I can only suppose that’s just the way he is. But it’s not nice to look at in closeup.

The performances are acceptable but not enthralling, even though the excited Proms audience would differ. The World Orchestra for Peace was formed after Georg Solti’s 80th birthday where a concert with musicians from all over the world performed for him. Now Gergiev has taken its reins and they meet for a short number of days every year, the musicians coming from 40-odd orchestras. They are generally superb. I reviewed his LSO recording of the Fourth so I did have a benchmark.

This one is slightly less—Gergiev is intensely beat-heavy, lacking the finesse to shape Mahler’s phrases in a manner that allows for flow and lyricism. The last two movements fare best— especially Camilla Tilling’s gorgeous voice—which suits the passion if not the innocence of the movement.

The Fifth plays itself in many cases—all the orchestra needs to do is keep up, which this one does very well. But the first movement is plodding and lacks life, while the whole thing falls flat in the heart of heart of the work, the Adagietto, taken at a moderate ten minutes, but absolutely heartless—every ounce of passion and pathos is artificial and contrived. Just listen to Abbado’s DVD with the Lucerne Symphony—at one and a half minutes faster it is far more involved emotionally and more convincing musically than what we have here.

This concert was not boring, nor would I consider it “bad”. But on CD and DVD there are many more valid interpretations, and for that reason, unless you are an unreformed Gergiev fan, I would stay away.

—Steven Ritter

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