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Mahler & Strauss on DVD from Accentus

Mahler Symphonies 2 & 8
(Gewandhaus/Chailly at International Mahler Festival, Leipzig 2011)

Accentus ACC 20238 & 20222

Johann Strauss Waltzes arr. Schönberg etc
(The Philharmonics at Caf├ę Sperl, Vienna March 2011)

Accentus ACC 20228
[64 mins + documentary bonus]

Chailly directs excellent performances of both these most grandiose of Mahler's symphonies, but I dislike the filmed productions - and cannot share Accentus's enthusiasm for the cover artist, Neo Rauch.

The problem is the filming. Director Michael Beyer, with Director of Photography Nyika Jancso, go in for continuous close close-up examination of individual faces and gestures, drawing attention to irrelevant detail and away from the music itself.

See Musical Pointers earlier reviews of these key works - and if you don't have it, go first instead for Abbado's Ninth from Lucerne - "a DVD to treasure for all time" (also from Accentus !). But for those with possible access to big centres, the 2nd & 8th are really best kept for occasional live concert experiences - and the others may actually do better with CDs?

The Strauss/Schönberg DVD was filmed in the actual Viennese Café Sperl (Gumpendorferstra├če 11, 1060 Wien) where Schönberg with Berg and Webern held meetings of their Society for Private Musical Performances 1919-21, in which these lovely reduced arrangements were played. Here are the right instruments, including harmonium, that were played there mmost of a century ago.

Directed by Tilo Krause, with the same Nyika Jancso at the cameras, this DVD could not be more different from the latest Mahlers. The performances by soloists of the Vienna Philharmonic are idiomatic, relaxed and involving, and the customers at the Café look the real thing. Camera movements are mostly smoothly ranging around the scene and give the feeling that you are there. The documentary is concentrated and absolutely brilliant, with a lot to take in at speed from the breathless commentary, packing in the background to Schönberg's life and teaching at the time and later, with telling visual illustrations.

The music is all gorgeous and the arrangements are of historic importance. There is a hilarious encore, Yiddische Mame by the group's leader, Tibor Kovak.

This is a DVD to enjoy at various levels; it rewards close listening and observation of the scene. but it should also give great pleasure as one to put on in a social situation; certainly we will be showing it to our friends. .

Critical opinions are substantially subjective, so you should compare ours of the Mahler discs with others. For us, the Strauss/Schönberg disc is however one of the great DVDs of the year.

Peter Grahame Woolf