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Image Entertainment presents
Great Conductors in Rehearsal (1997-1999)

"My job is to ensure first of all that they're playing the notes and singing the notes in the right order and accurately, but very quickly I'm really like a hound trying to get on to the question of the truffle, to find the truffle, and to me the truffle is, 'What is the essential emotion and expression that we're trying to convey?'"
- John Eliot Gardiner

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: March 23, 2006

Stars: Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Eliot Gardiner, Válery Gergiev, Pierre Boulez, Christoph von Dohnanyi
Other Stars: Alexander Toradze
Director: Peter Berggren, Manfred Waffender, Rob Van Den Berg, Felix Breisach, Barrie Gavin

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 05h:44m:23s
Release Date: December 06, 2005
UPC: 014381262520
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B+A D-

DVD Review

When one truly loves great music, one frequently isn't satisfied with just hearing the music: there's a need to get beneath the surface of the composer through the score and to learn more about what the performer of the music is trying to convey. This boxed set of episodes from the series In Rehearsal tries to respond to the second half of this compulsion, by giving a look at five great conductors as they analyze the pieces they're preparing, and try to convey that to the ensembles. Along the way, the conductors' understanding of where the composer was heading is imparted as well.

The first DVD looks at Esa-Pekka Salonen as he prepares the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a performance of Debussy's La Mer. A piece that is little more than textures, it's endlessly challenging and Salonen finds himself returning to the score again and again, constantly finding new things in it. He has an unfortunate tendency to be very clear about what he wants, but not always why he wants it. He fills in some of the blanks in a voiceover, as he dissects the textures and Debussy's method of constructing sounds. He places a high value on complete precision, which is particularly important in such a piece lest is dissolve into an auditory paste. The disc concludes with a performance of the piece, though the second movement includes some additional voiceover so it's no substitute for a proper recording of the piece.

John Eliot Gardiner is rather clearer in what he wants and why as he prepares the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir for a recording of Bach's Cantata BWV 63, Christen, šntzet diesen Tag at the legendary Abbey Road studios. One of the issues he has to deal with is a rotating membership in the ensemble plus soloists from several different countries; he is able to converse with them precisely in English, German and Italian (handily presented in removable English subtitles). One of the foremost practitioners of Bach's music, Gardiner is quite clear and enjoyably straightforward in what he's trying to derive from the music. He pays particular attention to the text, running over individual phrases repeatedly to get just the perfect inflection behind them. One of the most intriguing moments is when he looks at Bach's possibly heretical equation of music and the presence of the deity. He also presents a convincing argument for removing Bach's religious music from the strict German liturgical performance style, allowing it to be joyful, witty and playful. Like the other conductors in this set, Gardiner has a very clear idea of where he's going, but makes it intelligible to both his musicians and the audience in the most forthright way.

The third disc contains two separate programs featuring Russian conductor Válery Gergiev with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, first in rehearsal, and then a performance of four dramatic pieces: Stravinsky's Fireworks and Piano Concerto (featuring Alexander Toradze as soloist), Prokofiev's Scythian Suite, and Le Martyre de Saint Sébastian by Debussy. The rehearsal program is devoted entirely to the Scythian Suite, however. Gergiev has a lively and entertaining style as he interacts with the orchestra, and is frequently flamboyant in his instructions to the point that he comments, "I think I am being choreographer; I should stop conducting." One engaging moment finds him completely unsympathetic as a violinist complains that portions of the score are completely unplayable. If there's a drawback, it's that there are substantial portions of the concert program cut in, resulting in significant duplication between the two programs. The focus on the Scythian Suite and its vigorous themes of the Caucasus is quite appropriate, since that area is where Gergiev comes from originally, and he feels a deeply personal connection to the music that is evident throughout. But his performance of the other works is quite fine as well.

Perhaps the most difficult music in the set comes with the program devoted to avant-garde conductor/composer Pierre Boulez, who not only performs some of his own works, but tackles Alban Berg as well. The Berg composition is his first large-scale work for orchestra, Three Pieces for Orchestra, op. 6. It's a difficult work for both the listener and performer, and disappointingly Boulez offers little in the way of insights. The format is that he runs through each section with the orchestra first, then picks up any problem areas, and the result is little more than basic woodshedding (especially for the hapless 3rd trumpet). Some interview segments are cut in, but Boulez offers little more than Berg's emphasis on polyphony. He's a little more forthcoming on his own Notations I-IV (1945), as he makes comments regarding the necessary balance. The second piece is more than a little evocative of Goldsmith's score of Planet of the Apes (though Boulez of course doesn't make that comment). The worst moment comes when the camera bobs uncontrollably, in a grossly ill-conceived effort to follow Boulez's hand as he conducts.

The set returns to the classical with the final DVD, featuring Haydn's Symphony No. 88 in G, conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi. Here the conductor revisits one of the first pieces he performed, with a perspective of four additional decades of experience. He emphasizes the technical prerequisites to creating art, with an efficient approach to the music. He interestingly demands the pre-1925 orchestral seating, which is somewhat disruptive to the first and second violins at first, but they come to grips with the changes as it requires them to focus and listen differently than what they're used to. The conductor emphasizes the importance of trusting the musicians to do the work properly. Dohnanyi displays a contagious exultation when the orchestra gets a difficult passage right, and the piece begins to take on an additional sparkle as they communicate wordlessly. It's music-making at its finest, as the conductor and the orchestra reach an understanding and bring something new to the score on the printed page.

The individual DVDs in this set were all released previously; no content appears to be any different from the original releases. Content is a trifle thin, with less than six hours spread over five DVDs.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture is quite satisfactory for live performances, often in the concert hall. Close-ups have plenty of fine detail and texture, while longer shots tend to be rather soft and frequently display aliasing. Black levels are very good and color is quite pleasing.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: All of the discs feature a 2.0 surround score, while the Gergiev and Boulez also feature an optional 5.1 score. All sound first-rate, with excellent spatial presence and surround activity in the 5.1 scores in particular. Hiss and noise are virtually undetectable. The low bass on the Alban Berg is frequently quite impressive in its range and oomph.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 49 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are no extras. English subtitles are provided only to the portions of the program that are not in English (including the lyrics to the Bach cantata). Chaptering is reasonable though not extensive.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A master class from five great conductors as we peek behind the rehearsal curtain. Fine transfers are offered, but no extras.


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