IVES: The Unanswered Question. ADAMS: Slonimsky's Earbox. STRAVINSKY: Le chant du Rossignol. DVORÁK: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 "From the New World."
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orch/Andris Nelsons, cond.
C MAJOR DVD TT: 95 min.

WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
René Kollo (Tristan). Gwyneth Jones (Isolde). Robert Lloyd (King Marke). Gerd Feldhoff (Kurwenal). Peter Edelmann (Melot). Hanna Schwarz (Brangäne). Berlin German Opera Chorus and Orch/Jiri Koul, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 102 317 TT: 233 min.

WAGNER - A Genius in Exile - a film by Andy Sommer
BEL AIR DVD BAC 096 TT: 54 min. + 54 min. bonus

Young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons recently was appointed music director of the Boston Symphony, and you can see him conducting the orchestra (Ravel's La valse) on a recent Tanglewood Concert (REVIEW). This site mentioned his fine recording of Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra (REVIEW), and now we have the same performance, recorded in December 2010. On the CD, it was accompanied by Dvorak's symphonic poem Heldenlied from a different concert; here we have three other works which apparently were on the same December concert. It begins with The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives impressively staged with the four featured soloists (trumpet, 3 flutes) on stage, the string orchestra backstage. Then we hear an exciting and very typical work of John Adams, Slonimsky's Earbox composed in 1996 based on Stravinsky's Song of the Nightingale. Adams was "drawn to the modal harmonies that Stravinsky employed." It was a tribute to Adams' friend, musicologist-critic-composer Nicolas Slonimsky who died in 1995 and there is no explanation of just what the title means. After this we hear the Stravinsky symphonic poem composed in 1917 based on his earlier opera of the same name. Then we have the New World, given an outstanding performance with virtuoso playing from the excellent orchestra. Video and audio are state-of-the-art; this is a fine DVD in every way.

It's difficult to understand why the powers that be decided to issue this Tristan filmed in Tokyo in 1993 during a Berlin Opera Company's visit to Tokyo. It was issued on Kulture Video DVD about three years; now it appears on ArthausMusik both in regular DVD and Blu-Ray. .It is a beautiful, realistic production directed by Götz Friedrich with sets by Günther Schneidelder-Siemssen and costumes by Inge Justin. The difficulty is with two of the lead singers. René Kollo (b. 1937) was a highly regarded Wagner singer during his prime He sang virtually all of the heldentenor roles, particularly at Bayreuth where he was a favorite, and sung for many leading conductors. Kolo is superb in a 1981 Bayreuth Festival performance of Tristan conducted by Daniel Barenboim which featured Johanna Meier as Isolde (REVIEW). However, by 1993 his voice had deteriorated considerably, unfortunately. Similarly, soprano Gwyneth Jones (b. 1936) had a glorious voice early in her career singing a wide variety of roles, particularly Richard Strauss and Wagner. She made her debut in 1962 and soon began performing in most leading opera houses. However, a lack of vocal control emerged and even by 1979 when she recorded the leading role in Strauss's The Egyptian Helen her voice had a distressing wobble. Jones is a lady of determination and spirit and one can admire her theatricality in live performances (there are exiting live pirate videos of Salome and Elektra), but her vocal flaws often are evident as they are in this 1993 performance. Video is excellent, audio equally fine, but I cannot imagine anyone would wish to own this performance.

Wagner - a Genius in Exile relates the story of the composer's life in Switzerland where Wagner lived when he was a political exile from Germany. The composer's great-great-grand son, 30-year old Antoine Wagner who is an artist/photographer living in New York, goes to Switzerland to retrace his ancestor's life there including explorations into the mountains and countryside. This very professional-looking film is by Andy Sommer, who has done a splendid job editing it all together. We have scenes of Antoine visiting the same places Richard did many years ago, and there are many beautiful scenes of the landscapes that inspired much of the composer's music. I wonder how Antoine feels about the dreadful recent Wagner productions at Bayreuth for which Richard's granddaughters Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner are responsible? Tactfully, perhaps, there is no mention of these abominations the latest of which is a new production of the Ring that begins in Texas in a motel on Route 66(!). There are three bonus features, the first a fascinating commentary by Eva Rieger, a charming woman who is Professor emeritus in Historical Musicology at the University of University of Bremen, and noted author of several books on Wagner. She gives fascinating details about the women in Wagner's life, influences on him, and his influence on others. Conductor Philippe Jordan gives a lengthy discussion of Wagner's music demonstrating examples at the piano, and the third special feature displays "Wagner's Alpine landscapes in Switzerland," most of which were already seen in the feature film. Wagner enthusiasts doubtless will find much to enjoy here.

R.E.B. (July 2013)