West-Eastern Divan Salzburg Concerts. Daniel Barenboim conducts, in 2007, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in performances of the following works:
- Beethoven Leonore Overture III
- Schoenberg Variations for Orchestra
- Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"
- Mozart Sinfonia concertante in E flat major (bonus)
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was founded as a peace initiative by Barenboim and the late Edward Said with musicians from Israel, Palestine, other Arab countries, and Iran. The works listed were conducted by Barenboim at the 2007 Salzburg Festival; soloists in the Sinfonia are Mohamed Saleh (oboe), Kinan Azmeh (clarinet), Sharon Polyak (horn), and Mor Biron (bassoon). TV direction by Agnes Méth. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C+
The picture quality is rather mediocre for the three major numbers, probably due to low lighting, equipment issues, and modest budgets for cameramen and editing. In contrast, the video in the Sinfonia is quite good as the lights were brilliant in the small hall and there is much less to cover with the resources available. The sound in the three major numbers is also uninspiring with miking and editing problems that we don't encounter often in recordings of the major orchestras. But again, the sound for the Sinfonia is excellent.
This is a unique orchestra. It is a political and social experiment in that it brings together players from many countries who might well be at other times arming themselves to fight one another. To help overcome rehearsal obstacles faced by the group, Barenboim has recruited top musicians from Europe to teach and play similar to way the Saito Kinen orchestra operates. Guy Braunstein (1:26:07), the lst Concertmaster with the Berliner Phliharmoniker and who grew up in Tel Aviv, sits in the middle of the first violins in all of the selections on this disc. we also recognize in all the selections Kyril Zlotnikov (1:31:06), a Russian cello star who often plays in Barenboim's Berlin Staatskapelle. The performer who benefits the most from from this disc is Mor Biron, who plays all the bassoon solos. He was 25 when this was made and looks like a student, but he's not. He was taken into the bassoon section of the Berlin Philharmaniker early in 2007.
Trivia comment: mixed in with this eclectic group, we spot our first HDVD female tatoo (1:03:21), and it's a doozy. (Eric Underwood, an American ballet dancer with the Royal Ballet, is proud owner of our first HDVD male tatoo.)
A lot of the "festival" HDVDs we have been getting don't have much more music on them than was traditional for single LP recordings. We have been giving bad grades to most of these skinny titles. To their credit, C Major does put together several different shoots from 2007 to present 2 hours of music on this title. By far the best of the selections provided is the bonus Sinfonia. The Leonore III suffers from the technical weaknesses mentioned earlier; if you have the Opus Arte Fidelio opera HDVD you don't need subject Leonore as well. Moving on to the Schoenberg, we question if anyone should try to record this other than a fully-qualified major orchestra with resources to thoroughly rehearse the thorny piece and present it with complete authority. Then the listener knows he's hearing it the way it's supposed to be, and the listener can form his opinion with confidence. We suspect the Divan Orchestra didn't play it all that well because it's just too hard.
Finally, the Divan orchestra did a decent job with the Tchaikovsky "Pathétique." The problem is, however, that we already have 3 superior "Pathétiques" by famous orchestras in HDVD, so there's no need for this one. If you are interested in the Tchaikovsky 6, a better choice is the Karajan Memorial Concert.
So where do we wind up? If you're interested in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, this is a decent title that you will enjoy despite the only fair technical aspects of all of the selections other than the Sinfonia concertante. You could justify buying this if your really want a Sinfonia concertante in HDVD.
We also reviewed this disc for video content in light of our standards for HDVDs of symphony concerts. Méth gives us a ton of good whole-orchestra shots. Thank you! But then there also a lot of DVD-like views such as shots of the conductor over the backs of players and aimless panning through the string sections. So we would not reduce the grade for DVDitis. Still, in view of the deficiencies discussed, the best grade we can give this is a C+.
It's not in HD, but here's a short official clip from C Major from this disc:
It can be tricky to find this title through a Google or Amazon search, but the Amazon button below leads to the right place as this is being written: