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Berlioz Symphonie fantastique X 2 and Mahler 9

Haydn: Symphony No. 94 in G Major (Surprise);
Mozart: Concerto for Flute, D Major, K. 314;
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique op. 14

Emmanuel Pahud (flute)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Mariss Jansons

Hagia Eirene church, Istanbul, 2001
[DVD EuroArts 2051448; 132 mins; re-released January 2011]


Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 2, Op. 72a
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14

Philharmonia Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
CD Signum SIGCD193 [Recorded September 2008; 67 mins]

How long can CDs continue to dominate sales of recorded orchestral music? Salonen gives a good account of the Symphonie fantastique to join this disc's numerous competitors in the catalogue, and it will probably sell at the orchestra's concerts...

But the Berlin Phil's DVD under Mariss Jansons is stunning; something quite other. Excellently recorded and filmed in a spectacular venue it is quite thrilling, equally in the moving Scene in the countryside as for the terrifying March to the Scaffold and concluding Witches' Sabbath.

Emmanuel Pahud's Mozart concerto is immaculate, and particularly revealing for me having watched it the day after attending a Flute Masterclass at London's Royal Academy of Music, in which William Bennett worked intensively on tone colours and breath speeds for individual notes and phrases in pieces by Bozza and Poulenc, often referring to his great teacher Marcel Moyse.

Emmanuel Pahud himself (Principal Flute of the BPO) will be giving a Master Class there on April 3rd.

And the supporting documentaries are hugely interesting, with a portrait of modern day Istanbul and an inside view of the preparations for this spectacular BPO European Concert.

Mahler Symphony No. 9

Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim

Unitel Classics C major DVD 703708 [Symphony: 79 minutes. Documentary: 22 minutes]

Barenboim has brought his opera orchestra from Unter der Linden to the Berlin Philharmonic's own Hall to record this great performance of Mahler 9, which I found the best experience of many of this great symphony ever since my youth, in which I was introduced to it, shortly after the 2nd World War, in the Bruno Walter/Vienna 1938 first recording - "It bestrode no fewer than ten 78rpm discs and consumed many fibre needles!" [Gramophone]. Winding up the gramophone, sharpening the needles and changing sides kept concentration alert; later a double-turntable made for better continuity.

Not until now have I had a more overwhelming experience of this, one of Mahler's greatest symphonies, and unquestionably mine as a listener. The sound here is magnificent and the visual experience of Barenboim's concentration and the orchestra's is not distracting - if you find it so, you can listen with the screen switched off... Taking No 9 straight through is a strain, whether live in the concert hall or at home, where we found short breaks necessary. The four movements are each one absolutely unique, their contrasts great. The first and last are long slow movements, the first disturbing, the last, an Adagio ineffably beautiful, dominated by the strings and relucant to finish. Between them Barenboim "roughens" the Ländler and exaggerates the abrasiveness and bitterness of the dissonant Rondo-Burleske with its insane turns of phrase [Harald Reiter].

The short "extra" has Barenboim and Boulez discussing their joint Mahler project - Barenboim preoccupied with achieving Mahler's very detailed and sometimes apparently contradictory simultaneous dynamics as exactly as possible; presumably the whole shared cycle will become available in due course.

I recommend unreservedly these two great filmed performances of high peaks of symphonic composition from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Peter Grahame Woolf