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DVD-Video Reviews - November 2003, Pt. 1 of 3

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Emil Gilels, piano, with the RTF Orchestra conducted by Andre Cluytens in Concert

Program: RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloe: Suite No. 2/MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition/TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23/PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 28 (bonus track)
Studio: EMI Classical Archives DVD DVA 49011259
Video: 4:3 black & white
Extras: Bonus piano solo video
Length: 87:32
Rating: ****

Even within the limitations of the black and white format and slightly compressed mono sound, this is an exemplary series of concerts, taped 13 August 1960 (Ravel, Mussorgsky), 19 February 1959 (Prokofiev, taped in London), and 19 June 1959 (Tchaikovsky). Andre Cluytens (1905-1967) was at the peak of his form, after Charles Munch, the most renowned conductor in France. Emil Gilels (1916-1985) was no less a wily, seasoned veteran, especially in the Tchaikovsky Concerto, which he proceeded to tape in the US with Alfred Wallenstein and record with Fritz Reiner.

The Ravel suite, whose opening shot comes right through the harp, is entirely fluid and natural in manner, with a persuasive, smooth Cluytens leading with big gestures and dramatic facial expressions. We have an extended view of the solo flute in the "Pantomime" section, and this sequence is barely "conducted," but allowed to play itself. By the time we enter the "Danse generale," the propulsion is as great as any achieved in "Bolero." The Mussorgsky, in Ravel's orchestration, is a piece Cluytens did not record commercially, but there is a off-the-air broadcast from Swiss Radio that was available on Ermitage. Cluytens takes great pains to mold and shape phrase lengths, catching the quirky accents in "Gnomus" and the wicked rhythms in "Baba-Yaga," up through the majesterial peroration in "The Great Gate of Kiev." The close confines of the studio setting cramp the histrionics of the proceedings, but Cluytens' mastery of colors and demanding voice entries is clearly in evidence.

Emil Gilels remains, in my view, a basically "French" artist, his Russian pedagogy notwithstanding. his taste, his arched phrasings, his pedigree and demeanor all define a Gallic sensibility. But this is not to deny the often febrile passion he brings to the compatriots' music. The lyricism pours forth from every note; but the visual interplay of oboe, French horn, and piano in the second movement is an exalted moment of collaboration. For the third movement, Gilels turns on the afterburners and blazes through double octaves like butter. No less intense is the one-movement A Minor Sonata of Prokofiev, whose startling ending simply leaves a vacuum as wide as the premature loss of this enduring keyboard artist. That someone would issue Gilels' Brahms Second Concerto with Muti from Philadelphia is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco

Mstislav Rostropovich, cello

SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107/PROKOFIEV: Sinfonia Concertante in E Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 125/MOUSSORGSKY: Songs and Dances of Death

Charles Groves conducts London Symphony (Shostakovich) Okko Kamu conducts Monte Carlo National Opera Orchestra (Prokofiev); Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano (w/Rostropovich, piano)
Studio: EMI Classic Archives Series 7243 4 90121 9
Video: 4:3, black & white (Shostakovich, Moussorgsky) & Color (Prokofiev)
Audio: PCM Mono remastered for DVD
Length: 84 minutes
Rating ***

The BBC has made two impressive concerts available from the work of cello virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich (b. 1927), whose interpretations of the music of fellow countrymen Dimitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev are virtually definitive. The Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 is from London, 16 December 1961, a studio recording whose emotional drive is not vitiated by the lack of a live audience. In fact, the London Symphony players seem appreciative enough to have collaborated in this blazing rendition. The camera work is a bit more experimental than has been the wont of the films I have covered recently. We get close shots of Rostropovich, his bowing arm, and occasionally the deft finger work that produces the extraordinary effects in the second movement Moderato and in the Cadenza.

The camera is no less free to roam up the risers to Barry Tuckwell's French horn (often without our seeing Tuckwell behind it), highlighting the interplay between cello and horn (and later, celeste). Swift low-angle shots and rapid cutting intensify the visceral excitement generated by Rostropovich and an under-rated Charles Groves, who really keeps the LSO crackling.

The Prokofiev collaboration is from 12 January 1970 (just a week before the taping of the Moussorgsky song cycle with wife Vishnevskaya at the studios of the French Radio), with a young but spirited Okko Kamu. This performacne, too, strains my adjectives to capture the bristling, even hair-raising propulsion these artists achieve; enough so in the second movement Allegro giusto to require a separate ovation from the audience. The sheer virtuosity and digital prowess required by this work (and the intense floodlights for the taping) have the sweat pouring from soloist, ensemble and conductor Kamu, looking very much the young Karajan.  The bonus track, with pianist Rostropovich accompanying wife Vishnevskaya, has the lady in character, now entreating, now threatening, as Death's moods swing from the cradle to the grave. Her menace in the Trepak is quite unnerving, her guttural diction uncompromising in its realization of Moussorgsky's twisted harmonies. Camera work in the latter two offerings, being constricted by the live concert conditions, is less audacious, but I must say that seeing the demands of the Prokofiev is quite enthralling. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco

Sinead O’Connor – Goodnight, Thank You, You’ve been a Lovely Audience – Live in Dublin

Studio: Eagle Vision EV300449
Video: 16:9 widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo and 5.1, DTS
Extras: 6 videos, interviews and a documentary
Length: 150 minutes
Rating ****

This is a DVD that changed my mind about this artist. After this disc I am definitely a fan and hope to hear more from her. Up until this album I felt that she let her political side get in the way of the music. I really liked Nothing Compares 2 U, but not much else of her music. In this album she turns to a more folk sound. Songs included are:

Molly Malone*
Oro Se do Bheatha Bhade*
The Singing Bird *
My Lagan Love*
I am stretched on your Grave
Nothing Compares 2 U
John I Love You
The Moorlough Shore*
You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart
Paddy’s Lament
Thank You for Having Me
Fire on Babylon
The Last Day of Our Acquaintance

* 2nd Video version included
Video of Peggy Gordon also included

The music videos, especially the first four, have even a better picture and sound than the concert footage. I particularly liked the close-up view of her face while singing Molly Malone. The video quality of the concert is very high especially considering the bright lighting and dark background of the concert. The audio quality is better than most DVDs. Though not of audiophile quality it is adequate to enjoy the music properly. The video quality on the first four videos is stunning. The Peggy Gordon video is a nice addition musically. The last two videos were shot during a concert and the video is not quite as good. O’Connor comes across with a very pleasant personality during the concert. She also shows a strong ability to sing and project a good stage presence. Her version of Molly Malone is very moving. This DVD moves to my list of ten best concert videos, and is highly recommended. Purchase here

-- Clay Swartz

Eric Clapton & Friends Live 1986

With Phil Collins, Greg Phillinganes, Nathan East
Studio: Eagle Rock Media
Video: 4:3 screen, color
Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1
Extras: None
Length: 58 minutes
Rating: ****

This appealing rock concert video was filmed in Birmingham England in July of l986 with vocalist Collins on drums, Phillinganes on keyboards and East on bass. The video work is clear and ungimmicky and the DTS surround is a cut above the usual music video. The concert combined tunes both old and new, from Cream, Derek And the Dominoes and some solo material. Collins does his In the Air Tonight song which he frequently performed at this time and which brought the house down. Four of the songs were from a yet-unreleased album - August - and were well-received by the crowd. My favorite was Clapton’s Layla, which included the Thorn Tree in the Garden second section. The closeups of Clapton’s guitar-playing give an impression of why he is on the greatest rock guitarists ever. The closer is a rousing Sunshine of Your Love and the quartet really does seem to be basking in the sunshine of the audience. Yah, it’s a bit short since it was edited down for TV broadcast, but this way the band doesn’t outstay its welcome as on some rock videos. Highly recommended all the way ’round! Purchase here

- John Henry

Elaine Stritch At Liberty (2003)

Studio: Iambic/Image Entertainment
Video: 1.8:1 widescreen enhanced for 16:9
Audio: DTS 5.1 surround, Dolby 5.1 & 2.0
Length: 146 minutes
Rating: ***

I reviewed the DRG double-disc CD of this live Broadway one-woman show a few months back. Stritch is one of the Grand Dames of the White Way, with a career extending more than 50 years. She won a Tony for this show on Broadway and this video was made during her appearance at the Old Vic in London. Her approach is similar to many recent autobiographies and graphic novels - one of total personal honesty without compromises. The bad along with the good. And trouper Stritch has had her stretches of bad. Her sharp wit is brought to bear on a treasure trove of celebrities with which she worked, including Noel Coward, Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson and Ethel Merman. Some of her stories are priceless, and they are peppered with songs such as But Not For Me, There’s No Business Like Show Business, and I’m Still Here. Her face looks very lived-in in closeups, but that’s also part of the charm and honesty of the whole evening. She even does a bit of fancy hoofing. Speaking of that, she does the entire 146 minute show in the same mens’ shirt, black pantyhose, and no pants. Some one-person shows go nuts with costume changes, but you keep wishing she would just duck off stage and get her pants.

Stritch is dynamic and captivating and it’s great to see her onstage after hearing the CD version. Yet there’s not really that much happening visually in this show and her voice is so compelling entirely on its own (one critic described it as martini-dry) that I much preferred the DRG CD - which was a Grammy nominee by the way. This video went on a bit too long for me and I feel could have benefitted from some editing. There are some things which are simply more appropriate for audio-only than for video, just as radio can do some things much better than television. Purchase here

- John Sunier

BIZET’S Carmen (complete opera) (1999)

Maria Ewing - Carmen; Jacque Trussel - Don Jose; Alain Fondary; Miriam Gauci; Orch. Cond. By Jacques Delacote
Studio: Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby 5.1 & 2.0; in French with English subtitles
Length: 166 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

Presented on the expansive stage area of London’s Earls Court, this production directed by Steven Pimlott has a cast of 80 playing all the colorful characters in Bizet’s popular opera - soldiers, smugglers, toreadors, gypsies, flamenco dancers. Maria Ewing looks very much the part as Carmen and has a fine voice, as do most of the cast. Hard to believe the opera was banned in some places when first introduced, but it certainly engenders a higher level of emotional involvement in its passionate plot than do most operas. The camerawork is a bit loose at times and dark areas could have a bit more detail but it’s not distracting. The original audio track must have been only stereo because there is a credit again for Lexicon and Logic7, which could only mean that process - similar to Pro Logic II - was used to create the 5.1 surround option here. Purchase here

- John Sunier


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