Nearly 90 days later I finally got to watch one of my Father’s Day 2013 gifts last night, the EuroArts DVD, Herbert von Karajan in Rehearsal and Performance.

This gem, given to me my by beautiful wife Caroline, features von Karajan rehearsing and conducting Schumann Symphony #4 while rehearsing the second movement of Beethoven’s 5th and conducting the full work.

Both took place in the Deutsche Grammophon studios and was filmed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who, the last time I looked, was not related to the famous Inspector Clouseau, even though the names are near phonetical sound a-likes.

Though recorded in November 1965 and January 1966, the film holds up well and the audio is first rate, especially in 5.1 surround. To have a string sample library sound like these recordings would be a gift indeed.

The treat of Beethoven’s 5th is watching Karajan correct one of his conducting students, whose facial expression clearly announces just how pizzed he’s getting with all the help from von K, all captured on camera for us to revel in five decades later.

And speaking of correcting…

How many times have I seen composer/conductor’s semi-terrorized by the concertmaster, who in times past, was only too happy to point out in front of the whole orchestra (and sometimes the producer) the flaws in the composer/conductor’s legato bow markings, along with his accidentally cueing the coffee urn. It was enough to give the phrase, sugar shack, a whole new meaning.

If this has ever happened to you, this vid is a must see since von K has no problems in confronting the concertmaster, but always with a smile.

And now, a little nacht music.

Karajan starts with Schubert’s 4th and rehearses the opening bar multiple times. It consists of strings, woodwinds, horns and two trumpets sounding at forte then having a decrescendo down to pp. It takes several tries to get everyone to enter cleanly and to not sound like a sforzando. Throughout the rehearsal (fortunately available with English subtitles) shapes but without getting in the orchestra’s way.

What is remarkable about the balance of the rehearsal, which is the final before they record the 4th in the studio the next day, is how much of the rehearsal time goes to shaping the string section, and clarifying legato and staccato bowings.

This is revelatory not only for how to shape a live string section, but how to approach the shaping of sampled strings, and, how the parts should be performed in and phrased.

Aside from the blushing student with Beethoven’s 5th, Karajan uses a single word to guide his young conducting ward in how to begin shaping the strings: tone. To demonstrate this, Von K picks a single chord the whole string section plays and goes from there. Watching and listening to how von Karajan shapes the strings is again, revelatory, leaving you wondering if it’s possible to shape sampled strings the same way.

If it is possible, then the next question is, how long? To play any string part idiomatically on the keyboard is not easy. And no matter how much you wish it, getting the parts right is a combination performance/editing issue.

The vid is best enjoyed with a once through followed by a second through with score in hand. Note that von K had bar numbers added to the parts.

A word about the recording.

Both were done in the Deutsche Grammophon studios with a different string section setup for each orchestra. If you look carefully at each recording session, you’ll see how the mics were placed.

In closing, I think what Anna Sophie-Mutter said about her mentor von K is worth noting both for those of us who write, and who all too frequently must work with samples and not live players to hear our works.

“Karajan taught me,” she said, “to find the common thread that runs through a score, to think the music through to its logical conclusion and impose a direction on it.”

Amen.

You Should Also Check Out This Post:

More Active Posts: