SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47. Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54.
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Oleg Caetani, cond.
ARTS DVD Audio 45001-6 DVD 5.1 channel TT: 79:14

BRÜMMER: Phrenos. Lizard Point. de la nuit. Thrill. Inferno der Stille.
WERGO Edition ZKM WER 2059 5 DVD Audio/Video Rom TT: 100:09

Both of these DVD Audio disks are intriguing, puzzling—and disappointing all at the same time!

The Shostakovich DVD gives the listener a choice of 5.1 surround sound or two high resolution stereo channels, but on my player (Rotel RDV 1080) there was no way to make a choice; it defaulted to the surround sound—fortunately. The initial screen picture identifies music on the DVD: Symphonies 5 and 6. The next screen lists both symphonies and you indicate which you wish to hear. When you select Symphony No. 5 (or No. 6) you can then select which movement you wish to hear, or you can begin with the first and all will be played consecutively. As the music is playing we see on-screen a color line drawing of the conductor. On completion of Symphony No. 5, the screen shows Symphony No. 6 (with a different color line drawing of conductor Caetani), and the music is then heard.

Orchestra Sinfonica de Milano Giuseppe Verdi was formed in 1993. Riccardo Chailly is now the Music Director and has made several recordings with the orchestra, most recently a Verdi collection (see REVIEW). The orchestra plays in Milan's new Auditorium which reportedly has fine acoustics and this is where the Shostakovich recording was made before an audience. Conductor Oleg Caetani is the son of Igor Markevich, one of the leading conductors of the past century. Caetani studied with Nadia Boulanger, won various competitions, has conducted quite extensively in both the opera house and concert hall, and has just been appointed Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony. His recordings include Donizetti's Poliuto (with Ricciarelli, Pons and Carreras) for Sony, several opera albums with Carreras and Caballé, and Mahler's Symphony No. 2 with "The Robert Schumann Philharmonic." These performances of two Shostakovich symphonies are long on introspection and short on drive, with undistinguished orchestral playing. Surely the finale of Symphony No. 5 needs more thrust than heard here, and the wit of Symphony No. 6 is in low supply. The orchestra sounds rather small; it sounded bigger on Chailly's Decca recordings. It also was better recorded. Gian Andrea Lodovici was producer of these live recordings made in 2001 and 2002 respectively, with Michael Seberich as sound engineer. The "surround sound" heard on this DVD is impressive in its thundering, impactful bass, but balances are askew, with little definition to strings—they sound as if they are swimming in a sea of resonance. There's a very broad rather distant sound perspective except that the xylophone is very close-up. All in all, not a very satisfying listening experience, either in performance or sonics.

The other DVD is an oddity: electro-acoustic, or musique concrete, "composed" via computer by German-born (1958) Ludger Brümmer for multi-channel listening and now, through DVD Audio, it's possible to experience it the way it was written (there are only four channels, left/right, front/back). There are five "compositions": Phrenos, Lizard Point, de la nuit, Thrill, and ad Inferno der Stille. These are not brief works: playing times respectively are 18:44, 20:19, 17:46, 19:49 and 23:31 for a total of more than 100 minutes. Bits and pieces of standard music are occasionally included (although virtually unrecognizable). Brünner has worked with German choreographer Silke Braemer many times and on this DVD there are her videos for two of the works: Lizard Point and Thrill (which she identifies as Le temps s'ouvre). In these, as the music is heard, there are varied episodes of a bouncing tire, a woman running, a man splashing around in an outdoors pond, two dancers in various poses and many imaginative computer-created images, some in color, others black-and-white. While there is technical information about the compositional process, little is said about the intent or meaning of what is heard here. Neither the "music" nor the images mean much to me, but if you're interested in this sort of thing you surely will find this intriguing. From a sound standpoint there are some awesome "outer space" sounds that will test your surround sound system, particularly in the lower frequencies.

R.E.B. (January 2004)