Waldbuhne in Berlin 1992-French Night

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz,Bizet,Debussy,Offenbach,Ravel
LABELS: TDK
WORKS: Works by Berlioz, Ravel, Debussy, Bizet, Offenbach
PERFORMER: Leon Fleisher; Berlin PO/Georges Pretre
CATALOGUE NO: DV-WBFRN

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This release of the Berlin Philharmonic’s 1992 concert at its home-town’s open-air Waldbühne suffers from compounding production niggles. At 99 minutes’ duration — and with no additional features — it’s hardly a generous offering. There’s uneven lighting, some occasionally shaky and out-of-focus camerawork, a nasty shot that catches a spotlight, even a momentary audio dropout (during applause).

Worse still, the cruel outdoor acoustic makes sound recording difficult — so there’s an over-zealously balanced tambourine at the end of Berlioz’s Roman Carnaval Overture, a bizarrely fat-sounding piano in the opening cadenza of Ravel’s Left-Hand Piano Concerto — a work whose gladiatorial-theatrical connotations sit well in this open-air setting — while the solo flute opening of L’apres-midi d’unfaune sounds strangely bass-heavy.

But the 67-year-old Georges Pretre (whose name appears in the accompanying booklet in three different spellings) shows a depth of purpose throughout that is communicated with grace, humour and (when necessary) great physicality. He paces Ravel’s Bolero with mastery, really winding up the tension, and coaxes a ravishing L’apres-midi.

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But it’s the range of mood and colour in the stage-based items – the Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann, Bizet’s Carmen Suite and the Farandole from L’arlesienne — that impresses most. An aristocratic yet joyous Radetzky March and Lincke’s Berliner Luft— with the usual audience participation — end the concert. Edward Bhesania