The featured work in “Karl Böhm in Rehearsal and Performance” is
“Don Juan,” a tone poem by Richard Strauss (1864-1949). When you
consider that Böhm and Strauss were friends and colleagues, watching
and hearing this DVD is a special treat.
Karl Böhm (1894-1981) was something of a Strauss specialist, having
conducted many of his operas on numerous occasions. These include
the world premieres of “Die Schweigsame Frau” in 1935, and “Daphne”
in 1938. In fact, “Daphne” was dedicated to Böhm!
Now that I’ve established his credentials as a Strauss interpreter, it
becomes readily apparent why it was such a treat to watch Böhm
take the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra through their paces, at the
Große Musikvereinssaal. He clearly knew this piece “inside out,” and
watching him dissect it while focusing on the aspects of dynamics and
ensemble, was a real “eye/ear opener.”
“Don Juan” was actually the first work to bring Richard Strauss
worldwide fame, exhibiting the full flowering of his genius. If you count
his 1886 Symphonic Fantasy “Aus Italien” as his first tone poem,
“Don Juan” would be his third one. Although the bonus feature
pre-concert lecturer gives the composition year as 1887, all of my
sources indicate that it was actually composed in 1888, when Strauss
was either 23 or 24-years old. It set the musical world afire, with
its bold harmonic language and virtuosic use of the orchestra. Lasting
a mere 17 minutes, it definitely “upped the ante” of the Symphonic
Poem genre, pioneered by Franz Liszt (1811-1886).
Watching Karl Böhm rehearse this work with the Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra afforded me a bird’s-eye view of his working methods. While
he could be stern and demanding at times, he was never unreasonable
and even showed an occasional sense of humor, making members of
the orchestra laugh. When he mentioned that Strauss changed a certain
passage while in Montreux, years after the original publication date, it
became obvious how intimately Böhm knew this work.
This 1970 filmed combination of Karl Böhm with the Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra appeared to be a match made in heaven. The orchestra’s
special sound qualities, such as their supremely sweet violins and
their uniquely heroic horns were evident, and the first oboe had a
sound unlike any I’d heard before. Of course, Böhm had a long history
conducting this orchestra, both on stage and in their dual role as the
Vienna State Opera Orchestra.
This roughly 47-minute rehearsal was followed by a magnificent
performance by the orchestra, befitting a group that clearly has this
music in their blood. The sound was quite good for a 1970 filmed
recording, and the camera work was typical of Unitel productions
from that time. This color film had a nice, clear picture and was an
impressive use of only four cameramen. As I mentioned earlier, the
bonus feature is a seven-minute, pre-concert lecture. You might
want to watch this part first, before the main section of the DVD.
“Karl Böhm in Rehearsal and Performance” is a 2008 release on
the EuroArts label, and gets an “A.”