Strauss: Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche: in rehearsal

LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche: in rehearsal
PERFORMER: Israel PO/Zubin Mehta;dir.Peter Berggren
This DVD’s real importance lies in the fact that the orchestra is the Israel Philharmonic and (perhaps the correct conjunction is ‘yet’) the music is by Richard Strauss. The film was made in the more optimistic days of 1996, when more liberal forces were at work than now. We sec Zubin Mehta teaching an experienced world-class band a well-known piece from scratch. He is affable and charismatic, oozing enthusiasm but also technically exacting, though off the podium he seems to have relatively little to say beyond the already well known. Yes, it’s an extremely difficult and brilliant piece; yes, Strauss took as much from Mozart as from Wagner and demands charm and elegance and clarity as well as opulence; yes he was a National Socialist and we all know something about that. But it is fascinating to watch the rehearsal process, especially when, as here, the warts are included. A clarinettist impatiently clock-watches; occasionally there’s an unstifled yawn; the three auditioning principal flautists strain to impress; and the (American) principal horn, at the beginning of the first rehearsal, snaps like a spoilt child at the hapless timpanist who has clipped his solo by entering a bar early. Conscious that this creature is also a superb player, Mehta handles him with impeccable diplomacy. But prospective purchasers should be warned that there’s no complete performance in this 55-minute package, and that’s a pity. Stephen Pettitt