“Václav Neumann in Rehearsal” is yet another rehearsal/performance
DVD, featuring an important conductor from the past, who I can
honestly say I’ve been privileged to watch. This 2007 DVD release
features Neumann (1920-1995) rehearsing two works that he
obviously knows well, with the South German Radio Symphony
Orchestra of Stuttgart. These films were shot during the later
part of the 1960’s.

The first work rehearsed was Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No. 3.”
One of the things I found most impressive about Neumann’s
rehearsal methods were his continual references to the opera,
“Fidelio,” the source of this overture. In fact, he treated this piece
almost as though it was the actual opera, in microcosm. With this
approach, Neumann brought the proper dramatic inflections to the
fore in ways that another conductor, unfamiliar with this opera, might
not have been able to do.

Sometimes, his energy and enthusiasm almost seemed to get the
better of him, and he would lapse into anecdotes and stories which
I found interesting, but that orchestral musicians, as a breed, don’t
often like to hear. Fortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case here,
and a general spirit of conviviality prevailed. In a lively, engaging
fashion, Neumann coerced this orchestra into a fine performance.

Next up was the “Bartered Bride Overture by Bedřich Smetana, and
it was clear that Neumann was in his element here.  This overture is
notorious for the difficulties it presents to the string players.  While
he took the orchestra through their paces, you could see just how
difficult this work was to pull off. As with the Beethoven overture,
Neumann made numerous references to various plot points in this
opera, which was Smetana’s second, illustrating how and why the
passages must be played the way he wanted them. In other words,
although these works were played as concert excerpts, Neumann
approached both of them as a “man of the theater.”  I also found it
interesting to hear him mention that the trombones should hold
back a bit, stating that Czech music “…isn’t Bruckner.”

As with other similarly structured DVDs, both rehearsals were
followed by performances in the same rehearsal space, as opposed
to a proper concert hall. Although perhaps not the last word in
orchestral virtuosity, the Stuttgart orchestra played very well.
I’ve found that most German radio orchestras that I’ve heard are
often first-rate ensembles in all but reputation; they just operate
under the “publicity radar.”

This footage was shot in black and white, and the picture was quite
clear. The mono sound was acceptable, although not great.  “Václav
Neumann in Rehearsal” is on the ARTHAUS MUSIK label, and provides
a valuable look at a conductor who has perhaps been underrated by
many, judging from his relatively lesser known posthumous reputation.
This DVD is highly recommended.