RIHM: Ernster Gesang. STRAUSS: Last Songs: Vier lezte lieder. Malvern. An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64.
Anne Harteros, soprano; Dresden State Orch/Christian Thielemann, cond.
C MAJOR DVD TT: 1103 min.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C minor
Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Pierre Boulez, cond.

VERDI: Rigoletto
Saimir Pergu (The Duke). George Petean (Rigoletto). Aleksandra Kurzak (Gilda). Andrea Mastroni (Sparafucile). Judith Schamid (Maddalena). Valery Murga (Monterone). Yuriy Tsipie (Ceprano). Zurich Opera Chorus and Orch/Fabio Luizzi, cond
PHILHARMONIE DVD PHR-0203 TT: 124:39 + 15:07 bonus.

Soprano Anne Harteros is among toddy's leading singers of Richard Strauss. She already has recorded Vier Lezte Lieder with Mariss Jansons, and now we have a second version, this one different in that it also includes Malvern, which also is a "final" song of Strauss, actually his last completed comostion. It was composed in 1948 for one of Strauss's favorite sopranos, Maria JeritzaIt, with piano accompaniment.The score was kept with her private papers until 1982. It is a setting of 7 line poem by Swiss poet Betty Knobel, an inconsequential text set to typical Strauss writing for the soprano voice, fitting in well with the other four. There are a number of recordings; here it is presented in an orchestration by Wolfgang Rihm, and fits in nicely heard after the opening Früling and before September. Harteros is in glorious voice, her sound is perfect for this music. The program opens with a work by Wolfgang Rihm commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1997 to commemorate the centenary of the death of Brahms. Rihm was inspired by the composer's Four Serious Songs and the result was the 14-minute Serious Song for Orchestra, quite tame when compared with other music of the composer. The concert ends with a truly glorious performance of An Alpline Symphony, highly appropriate as the composer conducted the premiere of the work in 1915 with the Dresden orchestra and dedicated it to them. Thielmann today is considered to be a Strauss specialist and already there are videos of Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Arabella and Die Frau ohne Schatten. This is his second video of An Alpine Symphony; the first, issued about two years ago, also included Renée Fleming as soloist in Four Last Songs, and was with the Vienna Philharmonic (REVIEW). This new Alpine is superior in every way and has the advantage of magnificent multi-channel sound. The hunting horns in The Ascent sound quite distant, but if they actually were we can't tell as the video director doesn't show them. And the venue's rich organ plays an important part. Thielamann knows his Strauss and conducts without a score, always precise and clear, showing limited emotion and not a drop of respiration. This is an outstanding DVD, not to be missed.

This issue of Bruckner's mighty Symphony No. 8 is not new to video or audio. It was released about 4 yeas ago on Euroarts in their "Introducing" series which also contained an analysis of the work, and DGG issued it on CD (459678). The performance was filmed Sept. 21-22, 1996 in the St. Florian church in Linz, Austria, as part of that year's International Bruckner Festival. The site is appropriate. Bruckner played the organ in this church and reportedly made his first sketches for Symphony 8 there. When Bruckner died in 1896 at the age of 72, he was buried in this church. Although Boulez had great interest in Mahler, this seems to be the only Bruckner symphony that interested him. The performance is magnificent in every way, never rushed but powerful, and the VPO is in top form. Fortunately engineers have captured a rich orchestral sound in spite of the resonant church acoustic, with remarkable clarity and a broad symphonic picture. Video usually concentrated on featured instruments, and often on Boulez who always is in total control. This is an outstanding Bruckner Eighth, and highly recommended

This site has mentioned a number of videos of Rigoletto including one from Zurich featuring Leo Nucci (REVIEW), from Parma (again with Nucci) (REVIEW), from Liceu with Carlo Alvarez in the title role (REVIEW), Zeljko Lucic from Liceu (REVIEW), and from the Met (again wit Lucic) (REVIEW). Now we have this intriguing version from Zurich with the cast listed above. It is directed by Tatjiana Gürbach with sets and costumes by Klaus Grünberg, and costumes by Silke Willrett. The single set is simple - a barren stage with a huge long table in the center around which and on the action takes place. Costumes are contemporary. Singers are excellent, particularly young soprano Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda. This site recently mentioned her recording of Rossini arias (REVIEW). She was to have sung Gilda at the Met in 2013, but withdraw because of her pregnancy (her partner is Roberto Alagna). It was the Met's loss. She is extraordinary in this role with a brilliant controlled coloratura and rather astounding trills. Her characterization is remarkable fitting in with the production concept. In the bonus there is discussion about realism in opera and the fact that it does seem rather unbelievable that the mortally wounded Gilda would continue to sing in spite of her fatal stabs, doubtless to justify having a double for her appear in the final scene. At any rate, this bare-bones production is far more interesting than the ill-advised Met production that takes place in Las Vegas. If you're interested in Rigoletto, check out this new Zurich performance.

R.E.B. (February 2015)