TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35. Piano Concerto
No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23.
FALLA: Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Master Peter's
RODRIGO: Concierto de Aranjuez.
SCHÖNBERG: Moses und Aron
This superb Tchaikovsky DVD containing the composer's two most popular concertos lacks considerably in presentation. A single information sheet accompanies the disk, one side listing other DVD releases of Pioneer Classics, the other, some basic information—but not enough. On-screen under "Contemporary History" we are informed that the violin concerto was composed in 1878, the piano concerto in 1874-1875. So much for "contemporary history." On screen the statement is made that this concert was filmed at "Munich Piano Summer" in Gastieg Philharmonic Hall, but no date or circumstances are given. Copyright date of the issue suggests it is 1990. Both concertos are given stunning performances by the soloists, the violin concerto featuring a very young Maxim Vengerov, who obliges with a dazzling performance of a Paganini Caprice as an encore. Five years later Vengerov would record the concerto with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic for Teldec. Alexei Sultanov, at the beginning of his tragically short career after winning the Eighth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1989, gives a magnificent, solid performance of the first piano concerto—no technical limitations whatever here. At the tumultuous conclusion he is almost too shy to accept the audience's roar of approval—hard to believe there was no encore, but if so, it isn't on the video. The bio info about Sultanov doesn't mention that he died June 30, 2005 after enduring a severe stroke five years earlier. Recently on this site we reviewed CDs of two of his concerts in Japan (REVIEW). Camera work is first-rate focusing on the soloists and conductor. Audio is excellent although hardly true 5.1 surround. This is a valuable issue in spite of its presentation limitations.
Decca's DVD called Nights in the Gardens of Spain is actually a three-part a semi-travelogue/documentary. The first features Alicia de Larrocha playing Falla's masterpiece with the Montreal Symphony directed by Charles Dutoit. When we are not seeing them performing, we have famous images of Spain, particularly magnificent night scenes. The second part features guitarist Pepe Romero playing Rodrigo's Concierto De Aranjuez and includes films of the composer and his wife—again we have images of Spain, most of which have been seen before. The final section is a wonderful staged presentation of Falla's El retablo de Maese Pedro, with Justino Díaz as Don Quixote. It's unfortunate no subtitles were provided for this. The complete text is in the booklet in Spanish, German, English, and French—but how more convenient it would have been had there been surtitles. This DVD is a class production, with superb video and audio (although not truly 5.1 surround as stated).
Schönberg's masterpiece Moses und Aron, for which he wrote the libretto, is incomplete—the third act is unfinished. Written between 1930 and 1932, it wasn't presented until after the composer's death. The premiere was a concert performance in Hamburg in 1954 with Hans Rosbaud conducting. Rosbaud also conducted the first stage performance, in Zurich, in 1957. The opera is Schönberg's reaction to the spread of anti-Semitism through German society. Moses und Arson, a twelve tone opera, is far removed from the lush Romanticism of the composer's earlier works, including the huge choral work Gurrelieder and the symphonic poem Pelleas and Melisande. The central theme is the conflict between purity of monotheistic theology and the need for it to be communicated to others. The two brothers represent the duality of thought and word. It is an incredibly complex masterpiece highlighted, for many, by the "Dance before the Golden Calf." This DVD offers a highly-praised performance from the Vienna State Opera on unspecified dates in 2006. It sets a standard unlikely to be equaled by any future recordings. The cast seems perfect, Wolfgang Gussmann's costumes and sets are just right, and Daniele Gatti was highly praised for his conducting. Claus Viller directed the video and did a fine job, and sound is state-of-the-art. None of Schönberg's fragments of music for Act III are included, but we do have Franz Grundheber (Moses) reading the brief closing words from Act III. Subtitles are essential in a work such as this, and they are provided in German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian. A lengthy interview with some of the performers is an added plus.
R.E.B. (June 2007)