DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Nobel Prize Concert with violinist Joshua Bell, Blu-ray (2011)

Bell is simply sensational.

Published on September 8, 2011

Nobel Prize Concert with violinist Joshua Bell, Blu-ray (2011)

Nobel Prize Concert with violinist Joshua Bell, Blu-ray (2011)

Program: BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3 in C, Op. 72a; TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 82 

Performers: Sakari Oramo/ Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/ Joshua Bell, violin
Director: Michael Beyer

Studio: Accentus Music 10215 2010 [Distr. by Naxos]

Video: 16:9 1080i HD Color

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: Interview with Joshua Bell, Sakari Oramo, MarioVargas Llosa


Length: 91:25
Rating: ****

This is a video of the 2010 Nobel Laureate concert in Stockholm attending the annual ceremony that has honored recipients in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace since 1901. They are often controversial, highly political, and sometimes downright stupid, selecting terrorists for awards while overlooking obvious worthier choices (give it to Arafat and ignore Gandhi, for instance). Strange that the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, would have established such a prize (selected by a Scandinavian committee), but it must be admitted that many of the choices do bring to light the accomplishments of hundreds of extremely brilliant minds to a public that often has not heard of any of them.

The concert takes place in Stockholm where all the awards are given with the exception of the Peace Prize, awarded in Oslo. In 2010 the American violinist Joshua Bell was chosen to play the Tchaikovsky concerto, and this time they got it right. Bell is given the large type billing on this Blu-ray disc, and deservedly so. His Tchaikovsky is simply one of the most exciting and superbly played that I have ever heard, no format barred. Bell ploughs into the virtuosic outer movements with a flair and élan that steer away any criticism, while investing the sometimes phony-sounding slow movement with a pathos and sincerity that it surely doesn’t normally deserve. Overall, while this piece still remains questionable in my mind as to be considered in the same breath as the Beethoven, Brahms, and Mendelssohn concertos, Bell makes a good case for it.

Wunderkind Sakari Oramo, recent appointee to take Simon Rattle’s old Birmingham Symphony job, shows why the British press has hyped him so much, accompanying Bell with a wink and a nod, and then giving us a formidable reading of the Sibelius 5th, a work that had the composer stunted for a long while, and attempted to resolve a host of questions he had about the viability of symphony form in general. He found the answer in this melodic and stirring piece, which makes a wonderful ending to the concert. The opening Beethoven, while played well, seemed to me the weakest spot on the program, perfunctory and polite without really conveying the radicalness of the music and the conception.

The audience, supposedly sophisticated and astute, acts very polite and even somewhat befuddled as to what they are hearing. To tell the truth, I don’t think they got it at all—maybe that’s why there is no prize for music? The picture and camerawork are excellent, with crisp images that make sense according to the music, and stunning DTS surround sound that conveys everything heard by the sleepy audience in fine fashion. A very fine production, with a Tchaikovsky that simply must be heard.

— Steven Ritter




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