Israel Philharmonic Orchestra 70th Anniversary Concert (2007)

by | Feb 2, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra 70th Anniversary Concert (2007)

Program: BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26; BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15; RAVEL: La Valse
Performers: Daniel Barenboim, piano/Pinchas Zukerman, violin/ Zubin Mehta conducting
Studio: EuroArts DVD 2055878 
Video: Enhanced for 16:9  Color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Rating: ****

Taped 26 December 2006 at the Frederic R. Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv, this fine concert celebrates the synchronicity between an orchestral ensemble and its principal conductor Zubin Mehta (b. 1936), whose life literally coincides with the birth of the Israel Philharmonic the same year he was born. Mehta first led the IPO in 1961; and in 1969 the orchestra appointed him adviser, then its principal conductor for life in 1981. From the opening, soft tympanic beats of the Bruch Concerto to the inflamed agogics of Ravel’s apocalyptic La Valse, we can feel the palpable electricity between ensemble and music director, a responsiveness and supple flexibility of nuance that illuminates their collaborations.

Joining the orchestra are two musicians long associated with the history of the IPO: Pinchas Zukerman (b. 1948), who first appeared as a soloist with the IPO in 1968; and pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim (b. 1942), who conducted the orchestra for the first time in 1967. For the Bruch, the camera zooms onto Zukerman’s expressive face as much as it lingers on the violin’s fingerboard; occasionally, the camera pulls back behind the winds to capture the long-baton work of Mehta.  During the second movement, in a mid-range shot, we see soloist and conductor in profile, an admiring cellist gazes thoughtfully at Zukerman’s plaintive figurations. Each repetition of the arched melody has Zukerman pushing a little harder into the expressive line. Nice interplay between solo and clarinets, strings, and tympani for the Finale, with Zukerman’s digging into his strings with juicy fervor while Mehta exacts a luxurious, symphonic sound from the orchestra. The extended, unisono applause tells us for some minutes the interpretation was successful.

A quick look at the program by a spectator, and Mehta appears for La Valse, that quirky evocation of Vienna, what Erich Kleiber called a waltz poisoned by absinthe. Mehta himself looks especially languid at the podium, imposing a dreamy, nervous angst over the ostensibly civilized interplay of strings and harps, until horns and tympani intrude.  The convulsive last pages have the camera focused on the brass instruments and battery, the mass of sound heaving in controlled delirium.

Barenboim shakes hands with the concertmaster, and Mehta gives the downbeat for the Maestoso of the Brahms D Minor Concerto. The camera caresses the violins, oboe and flute as they intone the soft, reflective passage after the initial storm.  Some Furtwaenglerian ritards in the re-entry of the demonic theme, the cellos and second violins in relief as Barenboim makes his entry. Big, sweeping gestures as the motto restates, and then Barenboim gives the piano’s version of the soft theme. The soft tissue continues through the flutes and celli until Brahms shifts the period to horns and surging figures, the camera full in front of Barenboim then to the French horn. We realize how broad their tempos are, and the entire concerto will extend over 52 minutes. A leisurely, majestic Adagio follows, a requiem to both Schumann and the composer’s mother. Even the camerawork and lighting, become somber and church-like. The principals allow the harmonic-rhythm a virtual stagnation; we have entered a timeless world, when the piano ineluctably lifts us to the clarinets and passionate visions of salvation. The last movement, a fierce D Minor Rondo a la Bach by way of Hungarian gypsy sensibilities, French horns in relief as the piano tumbles into the abyss to rise again and begin the grim round once more. Barenboim plays the lyrical episode as an adumbration of the intermezzi of Brahms’s later years, haunted, until the strings pick up the fugato, which in its turn becomes a furiant. The orgy of sound achieves a Brucknerian resonance with piano obbligato. Brahms loves to develop his codas, and this march-tune with whirling figures in piano, flute and horn achieves a rocking momentum of substantial power. French horns, piano and tympani take us to a strong conclusion, from which Barenboim ascends off his stool like a rocket to greet his ebullient conductor.

— Gary Lemco


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