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This review is from: Tchaikovsky: Symphony 5/Verdi: Force of Destiny Overture/Sibelius: Valse Triste [CD+DVD] (Audio CD)
Listening to the CD - that is, the purely audio experience of this package - this is a very good live account of all three works (strangely, the Sibelius does not appear on the DVD): not brilliant, but certainly performed to a very high professional standard. But when we watch the orchestra perform on the accompanying DVD of the concert, one has a slightly different and more admiring perspective. Five minutes into the concert and the players are already sweating heavily in the August heat of Geneva's very Victorian Victoria Hall. The lights for the cameras could not have helped, but at least the men are allowed open necks.
Here, Barenboim has split his violins, and placed the celli at eleven o'clock; the basses are to the left behind the first violins. These latter and the violas are the only strings in their traditional place. These elements could be perceived on the CD (in particular, I wondered why the bass was to the left) but there is no explanation offered for this unusual disposition and I am not sure if it added anything to the listening experience.
The whole orchestra puts in a fine performance right to the very end, when many in the audience give them a standing ovation. The Verdi is the encore which is followed by an even greater and well-deserved ovation.
As well as the usual sleevenotes, the accompanying notebook includes extracts of Barenboim and Said in conversation, from their book "Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society".
So what else do you get for your money? Well, on the DVD there is a 33-minute film by Isabel Iturriagagoitia and Paul Smaczny called "Lessons in Harmony". This is a behind-the-scenes documentary of the orchestra, featuring interviews with the players, Barenboim, Said, Yo Yo Ma, etc. It follows the orchestra's development from the initial establishment in Weimar in 1999, through to Seville in the summer of 2002 and Barenboim's visit to Ramallah in September of that year (evading Israeli security on the way). Seville is now the base of the orchestra, a most appropriate place considering the long Arabic-Judeo-Christian history of Andalusia.
The film is honest in being unafraid to show the tensions below the surface, including a trip to Buchenwald, near Weimar. There are evening discussion groups chaired by Said involving members of the orchestra, in which Barenboim poignantly points out that, "Ignorance has never brought happiness".
But that's not all. In addition to the CD of the concert, the DVD of the concert, the behind-the-scenes documentary, there is an 83-minute film of Barenboim and Said "In Conversation" in a hotel room in Weimar in 1999. Here the talking weaves from the philosophy and meaning of music through to the orchestra and musical life in the Middle East. The conversation commences in a rehearsed stilted manner, but within twenty minutes both are relaxed and speaking openly and from the heart about their experiences of the workshop, the Middle Eastern situation, Germany, Wagner, music as cultural ideology, and indeed the amorality of music. The talking is full of mutual respect, gentleness, and a willingness to listen and engage that is so obviously missing from the governments and many of the peoples of the Middle East.
With all this packed into one small CD case, and assuming the price has not skyrocketed from that which I paid, I cannot but recommend the package as a whole and give it a resounding five stars.