For the fourth annual May 1 European Concert
commemorating the date that the orchestra was founded, the Berlin Philharmonic chose to perform in the Staatstheater Meiningen under Claudio Abbado. The acoustic has plenty of bloom and sets the orchestra off beautifully. The concert begins with Beethoven's Emperor
Concerto, which Daniel Barenboim starts with surprising leisureliness; one usually associates him with generally quick tempi, but here he gives a measured, almost stately, account of the first movement. But stateliness is not the only mood he conjures up: the slow movement is hypnotically impressionistic (and accompanied by some velvety, luscious string playing), and the finale a brilliant piece of poker-faced playfulness. Abbado then gives a passionate reading of Brahms' Second Symphony, and draws some gorgeously blended playing from the orchestra: the opening of the first movement creates the impression of soft meadows and rolling hills (it's not called Brahms' Pastoral
Symphony for nothing). The visual style contains no surprises--shots of the conductor, shots of the players and so on--but is perfectly adequate for the job.
On the DVD: The European Concert, 1994 includes a 20-minute German documentary about Meiningen, its place in German cultural life and the involvement of Hans von Bulow (the first Principal Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic) in the Meiningen Orchestra's early days. There are subtitles in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. There are also short trailers for eight other TDK DVDs.--Warwick Thompson