R Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra; Macbeth; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (DVD)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Also sprach Zarathustra; Macbeth; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Andris Nelsons
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 718908; Blu-ray: 719004


Note the very visible sign on the Concertgebouw platform, forbidding use of cameras or phones. The video teams during these live performances from 2013 and 2014 obviously paid the sign no attention, though when their cameras focus attention on Nelsons’s exertions and dripping brow you may start to wish that they had. The physicality of Nelsons’s conducting – the booklet note refers to his ‘eye-catching emotional abandon’ – is assuredly part of his attraction. But 80 minutes of pirouetting limbs, through one tumultuous Strauss work after another? It does become somewhat distracting.

Still, there’s always the music and the Concertgebouw’s effortlessly wonderful playing. The note writer makes a point of the family lineage, with Nelsons, mentored by fellow Latvian Mariss Jansons, conducting the orchestra Jansons himself guided and shaped for ten years. Nelsons certainly doesn’t break Concertgebouw traditions. Sample the limpid woodwind colours in Till Eulenspiegel, the perfect complement to the hall’s harmonious shades of gold, yellow and brown; or the strings’ distinctive wisdom and wit during the twists and turns of Also sprach Zarathustra. Yet Nelsons also generates his own special passion and drive, especially evident in Also sprach Zarathustra, though not so much in Macbeth, a score in any case harder to love.

Aside from Nelsons’s gymnastics, the players’ ease and palpable enjoyment regularly catch the cameras’ eyes. In Zarathustra, too many rigid shots from the back of the platform impede visual fluidity; the shots elsewhere glide along, through Nelsons’s trademark impish grins, scooping hands, and far too much perspiration.


Geoff Brown