BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B flat, Op. 60. Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 "Pastorale"
Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Christian Thielemann, cond.
C MAJOR DVD VIDEO 7049078 (3 disks) TT: 123 min. + 171 min. documentaries

DVORÁK: Symphony No. 9 in E minor "From the New World.""
Gustav Mahler Youth Orch/Václav Neumann, cond.
JANÁCEK: Missa Glagolitica
Gabriela Benacková, soprano; Drahomíra Drobková (contralto); Jozef Kundlák (tenor); Sergej Kopcák (bass); Jan Hora (organ); Prague Philharmonic Choir; Czech Philharmonic Orch/Václav Neumann, cond.

SCHÖNBERG: Gurrelieder
Deborah Voight (Tove); Mihoko Fujimura (Wood-dove); Stig Andersen (Waldemar); Herwig Pecoraro (Narrator/Jester); Michael Volle (Peasant/Speaker); Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orch/Mariss Jansons, cond.
BR KLASSIK DVD VIDEO 900100 TT: 120:00 including Introduction by Michael Beyer

The enterprising C Major label has a huge Beethoven project recorded over two years called "The Beethoven Cycle of the 21st Century." The first volume contains symphonies 4, 5, and 6. There are two disks for the symphonies, and one for the bonus. Forget about period instruments—these are bold readings played on the finest contemporary instruments. The bonus disk contains an extensive (almost an hour) discussion of each symphony illustrated with excerpts from each, with conductor Thielemann and distinguished musicologist/critic Joachim Kaiser. The fascinating commentary includes Thielmann discussing and comparing his interpretive ideas with those of Bernstein, Karajan and Furtwängler. Heard on Blu-Ray, the sound is stunning. The engineers have captured the glorious playing of the Vienna Philharmonic to perfection, and video is of equally high caliber. We have the expected array of close ups for important solos, but at least we are spared many scenes of the audience in the packed Musikverein, which has never before looked so beautiful. Thielemann has changed seating of the orchestra. The eight double basses are a single row along the center back, looking, and sounding, very impressive. This is a terrific project in every way. The cost for regular DVD and Blu Ray is the same. It does seem odd that Symphony No. 4 has a disk all to itself—it would seem producers could have been able to combine the symphonies more efficiently.I look forward to the remainder of this superb series.

This DVD featuring Václav Neumann (1920-1995) is a reminder of the gentle but masterful conductor who played such an important role in Czech music in the 20th Century. After leading the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1964 until 1968, he became conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he was principal conductor until 1990. This DVD begins with a glorious performance of Dvorák's most popular symphony, a work Neumann recorded with the Czech Philharmonic in both 1972 and 1981. This performance was recorded in Frankfurt's Alte Oper in 1990 magnificently played by the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, a large ensemble of virtuoso players. No details are provided about circumstances of the concert; it's unfortunate more of it isn't included. Neumann also recorded many works of Janácek, including two operas, and here we have a resplendent reading of Missa Glagolitica recorded in the Rufolfinum in 1987, with Neumann directing his beloved Czech Philharmonic and a superb quartet of soloists. Video quality is excellent throughout, clearest in the Dvorák, and audio is equally fine. There is fine presence throughout; I doubt that the Janácek is true surround sound, but it satisfies in its resonant way. You also might wish to investigate Neumann's DVD of Dvorák's Stabat Mater recorded in Prague in 1989 (REVIEW).

This live performance of Schönberg's massive Gurrelieder gives us the opportunity to view the huge forces involved, which include 10 horns, 6 trumpets, 7 trombones, 4 harps, a huge complement of percussion with 6 timpani and "large iron chains," more than 80 strings, 5 vocal soloists and several choruses. This is the only DVD currently available taped during concerts that took place October 22/23, 2009 in Munich. Along with his other major position of music director of the Royal Concertgebouw Orcherstra, since 2003 Mariss Jansons has been chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. His rapport with them is obvious in this splendid performance of Schönberg's gargantuan cantata. All of the soloists are first-rate, particularly Michael Volle's impassioned Speaker. Video is excellent. and engineers have provided a rich sonic tapestry of remarkable clarity considering the vast army of performers. Vocal soloists are a bit too prominent. Text is provided in German and English, but, a major debit, there are no subtitles. The dubious "bonus," an introduction by Michael Beyer, is in German with no translation. Those interested in this music should investigate the historic live Leopold Stokowski recording made with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1932.

R.E.B. (January 2010)