Berlioz – Rameau

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz,Rameau
LABELS: Medici Arts
WORKS: Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique; Rameau: Les Boréades (Ballet Suite)
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Simon Rattle (Berlin, 1993)
CATALOGUE NO: 2057558

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According to the blurb on the back of the box, this 1993 film of Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic ‘must be hailed as a document of supreme historical importance’. Really?

Of the orchestra’s previous principal conductors, the surviving footage of Arthur Nikisch showing off his baton technique in a silent film from 1913, of Richard Strauss conducting at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, of Furtwängler offering up Beethoven’s Ninth for the Führer’s birthday in 1942, of Celibidache conducting the Egmont overture among the bombed-out ruins of the old Philharmonie – each of these might reasonably be ‘hailed as a document of supreme historical importance’, but what Rattle and the orchestra offer here, in their first televised concert together, is unmemorable in the extreme. 

In the Rameau, who could ever guess that Rattle had become principal guest conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment a year before? Though the band is pared down to period dimensions, Rattle’s emollient approach and the Berliners’ homogenised wind and string timbres conspire to drain the colour from Rameau’s startling tonal contrasts and sap the energy from his vibrant rhythms. 

As for the Berlioz (albeit impressively conducted from memory), Rattle may well work up a good sweat, mopping his brow ostentatiously after every movement, but he fails to instil the white heat of the composer’s fevered imaginings into a reading that, for all his telegenic posturings, remains bland and routine.

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With murky sound, predictable camerawork and no bonus material, what this DVD actually documents is poor value and the triumph of media hype over musical substance. Mark Pappenheim