MOZART: Die Zauberflöte (complete opera)
Glyndebourne Festival Opera/London Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Bernard Haitink/Glyndebourne Chorus
Pamina: Felicity Lott; Tamino: Leo Goeke; Papageno: Benjamin Luxon; Sarastro: Thomas Thomaschke; Papagena: Elisabeth Conquet; Queen of the Night: May Sandoz; Speaker: Willard White; Monostatos: John Fryatt
Stage production: John Cox
Design: David Hockney
Studio: Arthaus Musik DVD
Sound format: PCM stereo
Length: 163 mins.
Despite a lackluster production, unimaginative conducting, and schematic sets, this live recording of Die Zauberflöte (The magic flute) has its compensations. The Three Ladies (Teresa Cahill, Patricia Parker, and Fiona Kimm), who sport unnaturally high foreheads, are melodious and full-throated. Felicity Lott provides some pleasing moments despite her nervousness. Goeke as Prince Tamino is charming and pleasant, but his uneven tone, threadbare vocal chords, and clunky enunciation are grating. May Sandozs coloratura in the two Queen of the Night arias is quite decent, with good intonation. Thomaschke as Sarastro has a regal bearing, but his sternness (that of a Greek hero) precludes a nuanced interpretation. Perhaps the most credible portrayal is of Monostatos, by John Fryatt. And the best singing is done by Kate Flowers, Lindsay John, and Elizabeth Stokes, who as the Three Boys intervene at just the right moment to keep the opera from getting bogged down.
The camera angles are static and dull, with too many shots of Goekes back. The 1978 sound is tinny, and the English translations are frequently far afield from the German. Perhaps we have been spoiled by Ingmar Bergmans film version of this charming opera.
Here are two different DVDs by the same director, on the cellist Jacqueline du Pré...
Remembering Jacqueline du Pré: A Christopher Nupen Film
Studio: EMI DVD 5 99729 2
Audio: PCM stereo & mono
Video: 4:3 Black & White & Color
Length: 56 minutes
I never considered myself a career demon, quips British cello legend Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987) in the course of Christopher Nupens 1994 video tribute to the late artist, whose onset of multiple sclerosis cut short a meteoric talent. For just under one hours duration, we witness the alternately profound and mischievous, sentimental and carefree, phenomenon who took the music world by storm and left an indelible mark as well-suited to her as to Schuberts epitaph, Here lies a great treasure but still fairer hopes. Utilizing concert and home footage, 1967-1971, the film allows us rare access to the kosher nostra musicians (Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zuckerman, Itzhak Perlman, and Zubin Mehta) with whom du Pré associated in the course of her ongoing relationship with accompanist-turned-husband Daniel Barenboim. We see and hear Jacqueline du Pré at the keyboard, playing two childrens pieces by sister Iris. We see a pre-concert mock-rehearsal of The Trout Quintet, with du Pré on Perlmans violin, played upside-down, while Perlman plies her cello, badly, and Barenboim sports the bass fiddle.
Perhaps the most telling moments are du Prés work with her real cello daddy William Pleeth, who assessed her talent when Jacqueline was 13-years-old as wonderfully developed with the capacity for infinite possibilities. Du Pre and Pleeth collaborate in a series of duets by Offenbach. Away from the cello, du Pré admits that even Casals could not dissuade her from Pleeths mentorship. Conductor Sir John Barbirolli recalls the incredible enthusiasm, the excess of enthusiasm of this talent; and that as it should be, for if not, from what reserves would she pare off in her later years? We have several, long takes from studio rehearsals for balances, using the Brahms F Major Sonata, with Barenboims accompaniment. The playing in Beethoven's great A Major Sonata is sublime. The setting is the spacious hall of church or civic center for the brutally intense slow movement from Beethovens Ghost Trio, with Zuckerman and Barenboim. Lastly, the almost tragic sense of foreshadowing in the last movement of the Elgar Cello Concerto with her husband and the New Philharmonia Orchestra, where she seems to be gazing a fond farewell to her instrument even as she makes it sing over the entire ensemble. But if there is one dominant image in all this nostalgia and grace, it is du Prés ineffable smile, a light in the eyes that accepts everything without regrets.
Jacqueline du Pré, in Portrait
Plus ELGAR Cello Concerto; BEETHOVEN: Ghost Trio (Piano Trio No. 5)
With Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zuckerman, Sir John Barbirolli, The New Philharmonia Orchestra
Directed by Christopher Nupen
Studio: Opus Arte/Allegro Films (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 full screen B&W and color (Introductions: 16x9 color)
Audio: PCM stereo or PCM mono
Extras: Personal intro by Nupen, Photo gallery from the film, An Allegro Films compilation, Illustrated booklet on Du Pré and listing of all the music heard in the films
Length: 155 minutes
Nupen is known for a series of fine portraits of music personalities, and the one on famed cellist du Pré is the most moving because of the cruel illness which stopped her performing career at age 28 and killed her 14 years later. I had both the documentary on her life and the two complete concert videos on laserdisc. While the sound is about the same, the images on DVD are much more vibrant, detailed and not washed out-looking as were the laserdiscs. The Portrait begins with her childhood, London debut and first TV recital and marriage to Daniel Barenboim. It deals with her playing and promotion of the Elgar concerto, and then concludes with a complete performance of the word with Barbirolli from a black & white BBC telecast. The Beethoven Trio is a later video with Barenboim and Zuckerman, filmed in color and stereo sound. This is an important documentary on one of the finest musicians of the 20th century who was much loved by all she came into contact with during her too-short life.
- John Sunier
BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77/SARASATE: Fantasy on Themes from Bizets Carmen, Op. 25 (1981)
Ida Haendel, violin
Orchestra of Radio-Canada/Franz-Paul Decker
Studio: CBC/VAI DVD 4274
Video: 4:3 Color
Audio: PCM mono
Length: 69 mins.
Two color telecasts featuring the international Polish virtuoso Ida Haendel (b. 1923?) in works she has had long experience, the Brahms Concerto (February 3, 1980) and the Carmen Fantasy (June 14, 1981), the latter of which she played as a demonstration piece at age seven for her teacher, Carl Flesch. Preceding each of the performances with the reliable Franz-Paul Decker is a brief interview with Ms. Haendel, who comments on her approach to the two staples of the repertory. For the Sarasate, Haendel claims that she intrinsically sensed, even as a child, the wildness on Carmens character; and she has not altered her basic conception although her projection of the musics sensuality and allure has naturally ripened.
For the Brahms Ms. Haendel has only the greatest respect, admitting--albeit mistakenly--that she recorded the Brahms at a too-early age, as a mere teenager with Sergiu Celibidache, who told her, Ida, you play the Brahms beautifully, but wait until you are forty to understand in depth and with calculation what you accomplish now by instinct. Actually, Haendel and Celibidache recorded the Brahms in 1953; and even if her birthdate were the sometimes-proffered 1928, Haendel would have been 25 and not a mere teenager. Haendel gives the Beethoven Concerto the epithet heavenly, while she calls the Brahms more earthbound, possessing a humanity born of the composers love for sausages and beer.
The performances are real blood-and-guts renditions, a product of the startlingly piercing tone and fast vibrato Haendel projects, a deep resonance collectors admired so much in her tragic contemporary Guila Bustabo. The concept in the Brahms is big, with lofty arches in the orchestral line, a bit reminiscent of the largess Eugen Jochum achieved with Nathan Milstein. The first movement cadenza is Joachim's, but with some added filigree of the soloist's that withholds the woodwind entries by a few bars. The entire aura of the Adagio, opened by bassoon and oboe solo, is quite mesmerizing; and the gypsy-rondo finale is marked by an increased pressure on the bow in each repetition of the driving theme - quite compelling. Nice camerawork in the Carmen, where a medium shot from between the strings of the harp catches Haendels aristocratic profile. I would like to see an audio CD as well as this DVD appear on the market, so collectors may have both formats for these precious additions to Ida Haendels treasured discography.
Three Music DVDs spotlighting great pianistic talents...
Europa-Konzert from Lisbon (2003)
Pierre Boulez cond. The Berlin Philharmonic
with piano soloist Maria Joao Pires
Program: BARTOK: Concerto for Orchestra; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20; RAVEL: The Tomb of Couperin; DEBUSSY: Fetes
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Subtitles: English, German, French
Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM stereo
Extras: A Portrait of Lisbon, Picture gallery, Illustrated booklet
Length: 120 minutes
The most striking thing about this superb music video is the venue chosen by the Berlin Philharmonic for their annual concert every May to commemorate their founding in l882: it is the world-famous Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Lisbon, built as part of a monastery in the 16th century and mixing late Gothic and early Renaissance forms with elements from the newly discovered territories in India and America. It provides one of the most impressive sites for a live symphony concert that could possibly be imagined, and the creative videographers make full use of the chambers details during the concert.
Boulez wears his suit and tie as he usually does, and conducts without a baton. Pires is a fine soloist in the Mozart concerto, one a bit more serious of purpose than many of the 21 concertos. The camera work is some of the best I have seen in a symphony video and the image quality is so detailed it often looks almost like a hi-def telecast. By the time the concert is over one feels one knows some of the musicians rather intimately. One piccolo player, for example, looks like he needs a shave. The added sonic enhancement of the DTS tracks is very welcome and makes this a superb visual and aural feast. This is the best Ive seen of this type of concert coverage on DVD. About the only enhancements I could imagine could make it any better an experience would be an overhead channel/speakers and 3D imaging!
- John Sunier
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in Lugano (1981)
Program = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 12 in A-flat Major, Op. 26; Piano Sonata No. 11 in B-flat Major, Op. 22/SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 537/BRAHMS: Four Ballades, Op. 10
Studio: EuroArts/TDK DVD 2052318
Audio: DD 5.1, PCM Stereo
Video: 4:3 Color
Length: 102 minutes (Distrib. Naxos)
Recorded 7 April 1981 at the RTSI Auditorium, Lugano, Switzerland, pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995) is his sphinx-like self in recital, playing music he had traversed many times prior, a king of his element. Under director Janos Darvas, the camera captures every facet of Michelangeli's overpowering technique, the extension of both hands, the incredible length of the little fingers, the supple wrist action, the tiny flutters in his lips as he molds musical phrases, and the minimal reactions to audience responses. Whether from Olympian detachment or from the severest humility, Michelangeli assumes a glacial, imperturbable demeanor, fixated on producing the most accurate, the most polished piano sonorities. There is something mask-like in Michelangeli's face and hair; he reminds me of Lionel Atwill's waxen image in Mysteries of the Wax Museum, a persona so compelled by art that the illusion of spontaneity has all but vanished.
The two Beethoven sonatas each reveal something protean in Michelangeli's aesthetic, the sang-froid of the "Funeral March" Sonata yielding to a more plastic approach to the eminently classical Op. 22. The opening of the Andante and Variations of Op. 26 is metronomic to the point of implacability. The piece is more dissected than played, in the manner of one of early Boulez. The music might be devoid of coloration, a patient etherized upon a table, if were not for slight, tactical applications of the pedal. The Adagio con molta espessione of the Op. 22, however, reverses this dissociative trend and becomes an intimate prayer to which we are somehow privy. Fleet and assured, the final two movements of the Op. 22 proceed like some atomic clock, touched occasionally by hints of personal drama.
Again, there is a kind of emotional reticence in the rendering of Schubert's often fiery A Minor Sonata, though the execution of the notes is impeccable. The charisma is more visual than aural: we sit mesmerized by a master technician as the camera angles wend their way around the artist, above the keyboard, through the raised lid and interior strings and hammers, all to reveal the ingredients of the alchemy without ever having found the source of the magic. Michelangeli scampers through the final Allegro vivace. Has he been touched by the music, by his own artistry? The enigmatic glance at the audience tells us nothing.
The Brahms Four Ballades receive a liquid treatment, kaleidoscopic in palette and digtial nuance. The opening of the last, B Major Ballade provides the opening music for the video; I must have listened just to that excerpt one hundred times. The subtlety of texture is uncanny. Auditors will perhaps find the No. 2 D Major even more rarified, tears of the sun. The B Minor, with its skittish, detached chords, is a testament to the legere touch and supple wrist action Michelangeli commanded. For sheer beauty of tone and for the accurate rendering of every color facet of a score, Michelangeli had virtually no peer. Sviatoslav Richter admonished that such fanatical perfectionism limited Michelangeli's imaginative range, that the standard of playing transcended the artist's love of the music he championed. You decide.
Arthur Rubinstein plays CHOPIN: Mazurka in C# Minor, Op. 30, No. 4; Scherzo No. 3 in C3 Minor, Op. 39; Nocturne in F# Major, Op. 15, No. 2; Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 (two performances)/RACHMANINOV: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (abridged) (1950-56)
Alfred Wallenstein conducts Showcase Symphony Orchestra
Studio: VAI DVD 4275
Video: 4:3 Black & White
Audio: PCM mono
Length: 50 mins.
Admirers of the legendary Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982) will covet this modest recital-tribute to Frederic Chopin, shot in the pianists home in 1950, and the abridged Paganini Rhapsody recorded for the Festival of Music program 30 January 1956, which features another performance of the ubiquitous Polonaise in A-flat as an encore.
The Chopin tribute is a black-and-white salon recital done in Hollywood style, with unidentified guests - including the pianists wife Eva - caught in medias res, with Rubinsteins playing the last fifteen bars of the Prelude in F# Minor, uncredited. Rubinstein then asks permission to play a mazurka, the piece most representative of Chopins national character, one which makes Rubinsteins Polish accent perfectly appropriate. The audience chuckles. The camera then cuts to the Delacroix portrait hanging in Rubinsteins home as he realizes the virtues of the C# Minor Mazurka, and then proceeds to extol the masculine virtues of Chopins pianism, exemplified in the grueling filigree of the Third Scherzo. A little night-music, queries Rubinstein, and he enters in to the F# Minor nocturne. Now the music closest to my heart, offers Rubinstein, and we are privy to a muscular, virile account of the Heroic Polonaise; and the camera swings from medium shot of the pianist in profile to an overhead of the keyboard, with Rubinsteins hands in full throttle. The final shot imposes the Delacroix into the lap of Rubinstein, and so we are all at home.
Jose Ferrer introduces the Festival of Music program, recounting that Rubinsteins musicianship intrudes on Ferrers appreciation of the pianist as a connoisseur of fine food and great cigars. I do not understand the logic of the excisions of the Rachmaninov - I suppose its a ploy to get near to the Variation 18, the poor mans blue-collar reaction to loving this piece. We cut away from the first four variants to the Dies Irae, and so to the sequences that culminate in Variation 18. Most of the camerawork concentrates on Rubinstein in right-side profile, with only cursory glimpses of a Wallenstein wave of the arm, since he and the orchestra remain in discreet shadows except in the more martial episodes. Rubinstein seems very well prepared for his part, including some severe polyphonic legerdemain that daunted him when it came time to record this work with Fritz Reiner. Charles Laughton speaks affectingly about Rubinsteins Chopin prior to the Polonaise, although his eyes keep darting back to his written script.
The Art of Christian Ferras = DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata/RAVEL: Piece en forme de Habanera; Tzigane/BARTOK: Sonata No. 2/BACH: Partita in E Major: Gavotte and Gigue/MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor , Op. 64
Christian Ferras, violin/Guy Bourassa, piano Alexander Brott conducts Orchestre de Radio-Canada
Studio: VAI DVD 4282
Video: 4:3 Black & White
Audio: PCM Mono
Length: 72 mins. Rating: ****
Taped 1961-1963, these exemplary performances by Christian Ferras (1933-1982) capture a rare and polished artist of impeccable technique and strong emotional projection; a tragic soul, really, whose premature death robbed us of a major international talent. French by birth and training, Ferras inherited the mantle of Roumanian composer Georges Enesco, much as had Yehudi Menuhin. The video by Radio-Canada, though streaky and grainy by todays standards, lets us witness Ferras compelling playing in Debussy (May 2, 1961) and his true acolyte Bartok (September 11, 1962). We see close-ups of Ferras huge hands, his quicksilver bowing, the diaphanous grace notes and appoggiaturas, the awesome extension of his small finger while the rest of the left hand engulfs his Stradivarius.
In the music of Bach (September 11, 1962), Ferras excerpts from the E Major Partita remind me of Francescatti, except the violin tone is more burnished, the spread of the notes more plastic and rounded. The seamless line is the Ferras trademark, a fluency that rivals the best in Heifetz and Grumiaux. No wonder Ferras was Karajans preferred soloist. The Bartok Sonata, with a concentrated piano attack by accompanist Bourassa, is quite severe and pointed, a combination of Debussy and Bach, but whose syntax is Bartoks own Magyar modal anxiousness. The two Ravel pieces are models of poise and classical perfection, with the Tziganes attaining a blazing peroration that will lift you off your comfortable seat.
The first thing that strikes the viewer about the Mendelssohn broadcast of November 21, 1963 is how bleached-out the visual composition is - almost like Ferras, Brott and the orchestra were specters rising out of a whitewashed world. The sumptuousness of Ferras tone, however, and the exaltation of the singing line, are enough to obviate the eye and proclaim the dominance of the ear. Aurem vellit, says the poet Vergil. The pacing in the Concerto is fast Milstein style, with uncompromising tension. Virile, sensuous, immaculately balanced, this is a performance to study and to savor. Quite a document, this video.
Virgil Fox Plays the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ, Philadelphia (2004)
Program: WAGNER: Fanfares from Parsifal, VIERNE: Carillon de Westminster, BACH-FOX: Come Sweet Death, MULET: Peter Thou Art the Rock, ELGAR: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, FAURE: Nocturne from Shylock, WAGNER: Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
Studio: Circles International/SeeMusicDVD
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: Dolby 5.1 surround, Dolby 2.0 stereo, Separate stereo music CD
Extras: Camera Three WCBS-TV program La Belle Epoque with Virgil Fox (30 min.)
Length: 41 minutes
This is another in the series of See Music DVDs which mate some of the historic Virgil Fox pipe organ recordings with a kaleidoscope-on-steroids called the Kaleidoplex. It creates digital collages reflecting the glory of the music and are sort of like mandalla patterns in constant motion. The circular images are seen over a background made up of the same visual materials that are being transformed by the Kaleidoplex. They include works of art, photographs of Fox and interior of the Grand Court where the immense organ is located, and other visuals. This DVD has more complex and creative images than previous ones, using some video special effects that toward the end of the program get as visually trippy as those rock concert liquid projections of the 60s. The images to the final Wagner selection are especially striking, partaking of Escher-like images and animated surrealism.
The soundtrack comes from a Command Classics recording issued just 40 years ago. It was recorded onto higher-res 35mm magnetic film as Mercury, Everest, and a few other audiophile labels were doing at that time. The video from Camera Three in l970 is not as impressive aurally since Fox is only playing a Rodgers Touring Organ and in mono, but the purple velvet suit hes wearing certainly makes a fashion statement loud and clear. He plays the same Elgar march plus a rousing version of Ives Variations on America and works by Guilmant and Harry Rose Shelley.
- John Sunier
Jazz Legends - Roy Ayers, vibes
Live at the Brewhouse Theatre, England 1992
Studio: Quantum Leap/Music Video Distributors
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: PCM stereo
Extras: Band Bio, Discography
Length: 70 min.
Ayers also does some vocals, and the rest of his quintet is: Rex Rideout, keyboards; Zachary Breaux, guitar & vocals; Donald Nicks, bass; Dennis Davis, drums. Ayers did 20 albums for the Polydor label and was originally started out on the vibes by Lionel Hampton. He has been involved not just in jazz but also in soul, funk, world music, and is currently a major figure in the Smooth Jazz genre. This 1992 program reflects a bit of all his influences and experience but with a funky sort of jazz being paramount. The groups version of Night in Tunisia is quite a production. The camera work is average, the image quality good enough though not perfect, and the stereo track is listenable but sometimes seems to mix Ayers vibes at too low a level in relation to the rest of his band. The seven numbers are: Mystic Voyage, Philadelphia Mambo, Nights in Tunisia, Love Will Bring Us Back, Everybody Loves the Sunshine, Dont Wait for Love, Hot.
- John Henry
The Who Live At the Isle of Wight Festival (1970)
Studio: Eagle Vision
Video: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 2.0, DD 5.1
Extras: Interview with Pete Townshend (38 min)
Length: 125 minutes
Imagine 600,000 people on an island at 2 am on August 30th, 1970. The stage was smallish, but there was still enough room for The Who to give one of its finest rock performances Ive ever seen. The footage of the event did an amazing job of capturing the energy of the concert. If you havent had the pleasure of seeing Keith Moon up close, you are surely not going to be disappointedhes a wild man! The video is shot quite near to the players, so on a large screen the images are larger than life. The sound of this concert is noteworthy as well. A friend who was watching who is a big vinyl enthusiast was impressed with how non-digital it sounded. In fact, it was one of the better surround mixes Ive heard from a performance of this vintage in terms of capturing the live event without overdoing the amount of sound in the rear. The concert contains a medley of some blues and oldies as well as a good portion of Tommy. At one point during the show the sound of the drums disappears, but Townshend has no trouble soloing for a while until they are ready to go.
The interview is obviously recently recorded and those who are not familiar with Townshends take on the whole experience are sure to be surprised and delighted. His Description is of a person trapped, imprisoned--who didnt want to be there and didnt want to be with the band. The part that helped to sustain him through all the years of playing is the desire of the fans and the record companies that Pete continue writing. He had to sacrifice a great deal (art college) to go off with the band he characterizes as having nothing in common. There are interesting comments on smashing things at shows and hotels. Other comments refer to the relationships between fans and the band, soloing, writing styles, and his religious influences and how they translate to the music. Its a wonderful live concert to add to your collection.
Songs included: Heaven and Hell; I Cant Explain; Young Man Blues; I Dont Even Know Myself; Water; Shakin All Over/Spoonful/Twist and Shout; Summertime Blues; My Generation; Magic Bus; FROM TOMMY: Overture; Its a Boy; Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker); Christmas; The Acid Queen; Pinball Wizard; Do You Think Its Alright?; Fiddle About; Go To The Mirror; Miracle cure; Im Free; Were Not Gonna Take It; See Me Feel Me/Listening To You; Tommy Can You Hear Me?
Starring: Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Luther Ingram, Johnnie Taylor, The Emotions, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Albert King, Richard Pryor
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Extras: Audio Commentary (2), Original Ending Performed by Isaac Hayes, Uncut Albert King performance, Vocals Direct From the Soul, Theatrical Trailer, Special Edition Trailer
Length: 103 minutes
This film documents the festival that took place in 1972 at the Los Angeles Coliseum commemorating the Watts riots. The film opens with vintage footage of a peaceful Los Angeles followed by footage of violence from the riots. Interviews with community members take place throughout the film offering commentary on the impact of the riotsboth good and bad. Richard Pryors comedy routine about the black man pops up throughout the film in brief snippets. There are early pictures of the assembly of the stage before the concert, the arrival of the concert goers and performers, and then actual concert footage. Jesse Jackson was one of the speakers at the introduction of the festival and evangelizes an uplifting speech to the audience. Beyond strictly documenting the concert, the film provides background on the history of the black man in America and the struggle for equality and a fair shake. There are partial clips of some of the performances and other musical fare that doesnt take place at the concert. The music is excellent and there are two separate audio commentariesone with the director, Isaac Hayes, executive producer, and director of photography, and the other with Chuck D. and music historian, Rob Bowman that help to shed light on the life and times. The film will either provoke memories in those who have direct experience or will allow those who were too young or ignorant a chance to embrace a side of society that differs from their own.
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