Flute Concertos at Sanssouci


Flute Concertos at Sanssouci: A Tribute to Frederick the Great. This is a concert celebrating the 300th birthday of Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia.  Emmanuel Pahud (principal chair of the Berliner Philharmoniker) is the flautist. Trevor Pinnock plays harpsichord and conducts the Kammerakademie Potsdam at the Royal Theater of the Neues Palais, Schloss Sanssouci, Potsdam.

The program:

  1. Frederick the Great - Flute Concerto No. 3 in C major.
  2. Johann Joachim Quantz - Capriccio in G major; Capriccio in B major; Flute Concerto in G major; and Preludio in D major.
  3. Franz Benda - Flute Concerto in E minor.
  4. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - Flute Sonata in A minor.

Video direction by Beatrix Conrad. Released 2012, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C

Frederick the Great ("der alte Fritz" or "old Fritz" ) was the extraordinarily successful King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786. Among many other talents, he was a military genius and a flautist who composed hundreds of pieces of music for his instrument. His official court was in Berlin; he built the Sanssouci palace and gardens in nearby Potsdam for his summer vacation home:

The sun symbol seen here is at a garden gate:

And we also see the sun symbol in the small theater at Sanssouci. Der alte Fritz retained C.P.E. Bach, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Franz Benda (among others) as court musicians, and subject title has music by all of them as well as by Fritz himself. So much or all of the music we encounter on this recording was likely first performed in this very venue. In the screen shot below we see Emmanuel Pahud and members of the Kammerakademie Potsdam performing a flute concerto.  Behind them is a brightly illuminated image of the seating space in a theater. This is just background art, but it is in fact a picture of the auditorium that the performers now face:

And here is a picture of the auditorium full of concertgoers sitting beneath the sun symbol:

In one of the better seats we find old Fritz enjoying the music while wearing his big hat to the irritation of the spectator behind him:

Here's a view of the stage from the back of the auditorium:

And here's a view from the back of the stage:

So what's the music like? Well, the selections are all short, polite, pleasant, and harmless baroque bon-bons. They are not important enough to commit to memory, so Pahud plays from sheetmusic. These pieces offer no challenge to a virtuoso like Pahud. He, the band, and conductor Trevor Finnock seem to be relaxed and having fun:

SQ is fine (could have been better if 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling had been used). PQ, while a bit soft in the dark theater, is OK. But alas, there is a serious problem with video content. This title is not infected with DVDitis, a malady that afflicts HDVDs of symphony concerts. Instead, this title has succumbed to a different but equally deadly disease called HDCADD or "High Definition Camera Attention Deficit Disorder." HDCADD occurs when the TV Director starts to feel that he (or she) is an artist just like the performers on stage and therefore has something the he (or she) should add beyond what the music performers are contributing. When this attitude develops, the TV director stops paying attention to the performance and starts acting as a movie auteur. He (or she) hopes to get glory for creating something new, but the only result is that it kills the music video.

Consider the next two screenshots. They are arguably quite interesting images. But they tell us next to nothing about the performance of chamber music. (They might be appropriate in a soap opera or romantic comedy about the love triangle of a flute, a double-bass, and a violin.):

The TV Director also uses many instrument-only shots, which only tend to give the viewer brain fatigue:

And then there is the incessant panning, scanning, zooming, rapid-fire short clips, and shooting from odd angles to add interest (the TV director hopes) to the inherently boring (the TV director thinks) baroque proceedings. All this hyperactivity is tiring, and it also adds motion artifacts like what you see in the next 3 screenshots:

Now back to reality with a decent shot of the whole stage while Pahud rests. It would be better to lock 2 or 3 cameras in 2 or 3 sensible positions like this for an entire 15-minute concerto than to drag the viewer through antics illustrated by the screenshots above:

These players love what they are doing. To get a splendid video, all the TV director has to do is to keep the cameras framed in simple shots that show that love:

Of the 7 numbers in this program, 4 are solos by Pahud in various locations in or near the theater:

With the solos, the TV director has to shoot one guy standing up playing. How could one possibly mess that up? Well, you and I probably couldn't. But the TV director acting as auteur can dream up an infinite number of distracting embellishments:

Here's the biggest hoot of all---the baroque flute sonata as film noir! The TV director gets fascinated with fuzzy images of Pahud's shadow on a red carpet in the theater:

What grade does this get? The basic concept of this title was neat, and the performances were fine. So we start with "A+." The lack of 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling brings this down to "A." The persistent case of HDCADD knocks this down 2 grades to a "C". I see no mitigating factor to allow me to bump the grade higher. It's a shame to see the performances of Pahud and the Kammerakadamie Potsdam defaced this way by the video. You would think that performers of this stature would have the clout to demand better from the recording industry.