DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
DVD Reviews, Part 1 of 2
Published on November 1, 2004
|November 2004 Part 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
All Music Videos
MOZART: Die Zauberflöte (complete opera)
Glyndebourne Festival Opera/London Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Bernard Haitink/Glyndebourne Chorus
The camera angles are static and dull, with too many shots of Goeke’s back. The 1978 sound is tinny, and the English translations are frequently far afield from the German. Perhaps we have been spoiled by Ingmar Bergman’s 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
Perhaps the most telling moments are du Pré’s 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 Pleeth’s 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 Barenboim’s 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 Beethoven’s 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 Pré’s ineffable smile, a light in the eyes that accepts everything without regrets.
Jacqueline du Pré, in Portrait
With Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zuckerman, Sir John Barbirolli, The New Philharmonia Orchestra
- John Sunier
BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77/SARASATE: Fantasy on Themes from Bizet’s Carmen, Op. 25 (1981)
Ida Haendel, violin
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 composer’s 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 Haendel’s 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 Haendel’s treasured discography.
Three Music DVDs spotlighting great pianistic talents…
Europa-Konzert from Lisbon (2003)
Program: BARTOK: Concerto for Orchestra; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20; RAVEL: The Tomb of Couperin; DEBUSSY: Fetes
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 I’ve 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
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
The Chopin tribute is a black-and-white salon recital done in Hollywood style, with unidentified guests – including the pianist’s wife Eva – caught in medias res, with Rubinstein’s 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 Chopin’s national character, one which makes Rubinstein’s “Polish accent perfectly appropriate.” The audience chuckles. The camera then cuts to the Delacroix portrait hanging in Rubinstein’s home as he realizes the virtues of the C# Minor Mazurka, and then proceeds to extol the masculine virtues of Chopin’s 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 Rubinstein’s 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 Rubinstein’s musicianship intrudes on Ferrer’s 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 it’s a ploy to get near to the Variation 18, the poor man’s 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 Rubinstein’s 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
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 Karajan’s 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 Bartok’s own Magyar modal anxiousness. The two Ravel pieces are models of poise and classical perfection, with the Tzigane’s 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
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 he’s 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
Studio: Quantum Leap/Music Video Distributors
- John Henry
The Who – Live At the Isle of Wight Festival (1970)
The interview is obviously recently recorded and those who are not familiar with Townshend’s take on the whole experience are sure to be surprised and delighted. His Description is of a person trapped, imprisoned–who didn’t want to be there and didn’t 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. It’s a wonderful live concert to add to your collection.
Songs included: Heaven and Hell; I Can’t Explain; Young Man Blues; I Don’t Even Know Myself; Water; Shakin’ All Over/Spoonful/Twist and Shout; Summertime Blues; My Generation; Magic Bus; FROM TOMMY: Overture; It’s a Boy; Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker); Christmas; The Acid Queen; Pinball Wizard; Do You Think It’s Alright?; Fiddle About; Go To The Mirror; Miracle cure; I’m Free; We’re 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