Recorded during the daylight hours, it shows an audience viewing the performance from the other side of a small lake. Snatches of film — of the surrounding summer countryside, of a band marching through the village, of what may be Mahler’s schoolbooks — are introduced. And when choral forces are called for they’re filmed at first singing in a small church, presumably with a video-monitor link to the conductor. Eventually they too appear on stage.
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Manfred Honeck initiates proceedings with the opening movement of the Second Symphony, and then Von Otter and Hampson sing some Mahler songs drawn from various collections. After another extract from the symphony, and more songs, the event ends with the closing moments of the same symphony. All in all, though, the only viewers likely to go for this product are dedicated collectors of every appearance on video of Von Otter and Hampson, despite an attractive showing by a young local soloist, Marita Solberg,
Finally, for this month’s “lucky dip” from the past, it’s impossible to resist a CD of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (the “Eroica”) from Leopold Stokowski with the London Symphony Orchestra. Stokowski used to be looked down on because of his transcriptions of originally solo items for full symphony orchestra (most famously Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, written for the organ). He was even accused of creating a Polish-sounding name from the humble English surname Stokes — a total misrepresentation of the facts, as it happens. But CDs like this one unambiguously demonstrate what a marvelous conductor he really was.
It’s impossible to listen to it and not be struck by the enormous clarity of the sound, the sharply differentiated sections of the orchestra, and the huge emotional commitment of everyone concerned. I’ve never heard the symphony played better, and the short Coliolan Overture that follows it — often sounding, in other hands, like Beethoven insisting on something or other in not unfamiliar fashion — is worth endless
re-listenings. The Academic Festival Overture by Brahms, from Stokowski and the New Philharmonia Orchestra, is less gripping, but the CD ends with a few priceless seconds of Stokowski thanking the musicians for their dedication, even while some of them are, it seems, still leaving. He was in his 90s at the time.
This CD isn’t easy to find, but if you should see it lurking half-forgotten in some Taiwan record store, make absolutely sure you don’t leave without it in your bag.