TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 "Pathétique." SCRIABIN: Prometheus "The Poem of Fire."
Alexander Toradze, pianist; Kirov Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
PHILIPS DVD AUDIO B000 1511-19 TT: 70:37

ORFF: Carmina Burana
Christiane Oelze, soprano; David Kuebler, tenor; Simon Keenlyside, baritone; Berlin German Opera Chorus and Orch/Christian Thielemann, cond.

Gergiev's previous multi-channel releases on Philips have been SACDs (a Mussorgsky program REVIEW, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, coupled with works of Borodin and Balakirev REVIEW); why it was decided to issue his Tchaikovsky Sixth on DVD Audio instead of SACD remains a mystery. Also unusual is the fact that the coupling is different from the regular CD issue which contained the same composer's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. Here the Sixth is coupled with Scriabin's Prometheus, "The Poem of Fire," originally issued on CD (Philips 446 715) coupled with Stravinsky's complete Firebird Ballet. Gergiev's Tchaikovsky is not as impassioned as I expected, or as dramatic, still a worthy addition to the multi-channel catalog. The real winner here is the stunning performance of Scriabin's rhapsodic piano/orchestra masterpiece Prometheus which was intended to be performed in the concert hall with programmed lights. It wasn't given that way at the 1911 premiere in Moscow with Serge Koussevitzky conducting, but occasionally a performance with the visuals turns up. Scriabin said of this music, "Beautiful world, I carry you along with me in divine, aimless flight, in unbounded free play." And indeed it is highly episodic, but this magnificent performance brings coherence to the score. Both recordings were made in Mikaeli Hall in Finland, the Tchaikovsky in July 1995, the Scriabin two years later. No question whatever that the multi-channel sound is superior to regular stereo versions. As you listen to these performances you'll see on your TV monitor an assortment of photos of Gergiev, which I find distracting. The disk also contains, according to the back of the jewel box, "Photo Gallery, Biography, Discography, Credits." It states these play on "DVD Audio/Video Players" but, for whatever reason, I could not access these on any of my three DVD players.

Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is Christian Thieleman's first DVD Audio release. He already has a multi-channel SACD release of Strauss's Alpine Symphony and Rosenkavalier Suite REVIEW. One wonders why the Orff is DVD, the Strauss SACD. Perhaps Polygram is trying to not take sides in the current competition between the two formats?

Thielemann has a rather leisure view of Orff's popular work, although there is plenty of spirit and drive in the vigorous dances. The two male soloists are superb but soprano Christiane Oelze is taxed by the stratospheric high notes in the final section and cuts them short. The Berlin chorus has recorded this music before, including the Eugen Jochum's second recording of the score, made in 1968. The chorus is outstanding although not very well recorded. The orchestra and soloists are ultra-clear, but the large chorus is recorded with little resonance resulting in coarse sound when they sing at high volume. As you listen, on your TV monitor you'll see a picture and listing of the section being sung. Texts are in the accompanying booklet—why not on screen as well? The jewel box states this issue contains a "Photo Gallery" and "Credits" stating they can be accessed on DVD Audio players, but, as with the Tchaikovsky/Scriabin DVD above, I couldn't program them.

R.E.B. (January 2004)