DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 cond. by Kurt Masur; Classical Music and Cold War, Blu-ray (1991/2014)

A great performance of Beethoven’s Ninth plus a fascinating documentary on musicians in the GDR during the cold war.

Published on November 22, 2014

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 cond. by Kurt Masur; Classical Music and Cold War, Blu-ray (1991/2014)

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 cond. by Kurt Masur; Classical Music and Cold War, Blu-ray (1991/2014) 

Cast: Kurt Masur, James Wagner, Gwynne Howell, Doris Soffel, Venceslava Hruba-Freiberger, The Gewandaus Chorus and Orch., Helmut Schmidt, Peter Schreier, others
Director: Thomas Zintl
Studio: ArtHaus 108122 [10/28/14] (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 (concert) and 16:9 (documentary)
Audio: German PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Length: 71 min. (concert), 52 min. (documentary)
Rating: ****

This Blu-ray has been released to make the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1969. It combines two excellent programs on a single disc, although navigation problems can make it a struggle to access them easily. First is a concert recorded in 1991 in Leipzig with the East German Gewandhaus Chorus and Orchestra and four distinguised vocal soloists in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Masur was music director of the orchestra from 1970 to 1996. Performing this work was a great success for Masur both before and after the wall fell. Since the video was made in 1991 it is only in 4:3 ratio, the same as the better-known performance of the work by Leonard Bernstein shortly after the fall of the wall.

The documentary was my main interest in this Blu-ray. I reviewed it here as a separate DVD earlier.  It uses archived material and contemporary interviews with witnesses and draws a parallel between cultural and political developments. It was interesting to learn of the extensive recording activity of all their top musical soloists and groups by the GDR’s state record label, and how that provided a sizeable income for the state from sales to the West to be issued on LPs sold in the West. I wasn’t aware that the Stazi secret police even recruited muscians in the orchestras, and they were almost forced to sign up because if they didn’t they realized they wouldn’t be allowed to play outside the GDR again. It was most interesting that the GDR officials allowed the staging of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, towards the end of their reign, when it had such an unmistakable message about freedom – even more so than the Ninth.

—John Sunier




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