I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman

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Don Quixote in Royal Ballet style

Ludwig Minkus: Don Quixote
Marianela Núñez – Kitri
Carlos Acosta – Basilio
Christopher Saunders – Don Quixote
Philip Mosley – Sancho Panza
Ryoichi Hirano – Espada
Melissa Hamilton – The Queen of the Dryads
The Royal Ballet
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Martin Yates
Production & choreography by Carlos Acosta
Opus Arte Blu-ray OABD7143D 125m (+12m features) LPCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio

Don Quixote - The Royal Ballet

Don Quixote – The Royal Ballet

The classic ballet Don Quixote, created in 1869 for the Bolshoi in Moscow by Marius Petipa and with music by Ludwig Minkus (Léon Fyodorovich Minkus), has always been the merry playground of choreographers, musicians and arrangers of all sorts. It is danced to this day in its most convincing form by the great Russian companies whose time-honored dedication and savoir-faire has resulted in a complete understanding of the ballet’s style and temperament. A 19th-century extravaganza, loosely based on Cervantes, which is now primarily an irresistible feel-good cocktail of sunny locations, some slapstick comedy and of course loads of supreme classical and character dancing.
Read the full review on Classical Net

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Simon Rattle – Berliner Philharmoniker

New Year’s Eve Concert 2007
Alexander Borodin: Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor; Symphony #2 in B minor
Modest Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina – Prelude, Dawn over the Moscow River; Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Maurice Ravel)
Dmitri Shostakovich: The Golden Age (Dance)

Russian Rhythms, Waldbühne 2009
Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (Three fragments from Act 1, Pas de deux – Grand adage)
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto #3 in D minor, Op. 30 1
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

European Concert 2007
Richard Wagner: Prelude to Parsifal
Johannes Brahms: Concerto for Violin & Cello in A minor, Op. 102, Symphony #4 in E minor, Op. 98

European Concert 2008
Igor Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements
Max Bruch: Concerto for Violin #1 in G minor, Op. 26
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #7 in A Major, Op. 92

Yefim Bronfman, piano
Lisa Batiashvili, violin
Truls Mørk, cello
Vadim Repin, violin
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle
EuroArts Blu-ray 2059734 4Discs LPCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic

In a box simply called Simon Rattle – Berliner Philharmoniker EuroArts assembles four concerts in Blu-ray format. Captured between 2007 and 2009 these live performances document the orchestra and their current principal conductor in different venues as well as repertoire. From the timeless Berliner Philharmonie (New Year’s Eve concert 2007) and the horrors of the Kabelwerk Oberspree, a former Power and Cable Factory in Berlin (European concert 2007), to the historic Great Hall of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory (European concert 2008) and the open-air concert at the Waldbühne (2009) which closes the season each year – the Berliner plays it all. The titles were previously available on separate discs, while the two European Concerts, the May 1st anniversary gigs of the Berlin Philharmonic, also make their appearance on Blu-ray here.

In all cases the high-definition transfers are a real joy to behold. The widescreen video quality is magnificent, even for the problematic open-air concert which was plagued by inclement weather. The sound is no less satisfying. All discs are offered with robust but crystal clear LPCM 2.0 Stereo tracks and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks; the Waldbühne concert comes with LPCM mixes only, yet closely miked there is no way to miss anything – not even the rain during the performance of The Rite. The filming and editing is in all cases unsurprisingly traditional and notwithstanding the occasional misfired camera virtuosity (no, we aren’t interested in scrutinizing the girders of the Kabelwerk Oberspree during Brahms), will ensure an enjoyable home video experience.

The performances, however, cannot foster the same overall enthusiasm. This being the Berlin Philharmonic, there isn’t anything really bad, yet there isn’t anything really essential to discover either. The booklet coming with the box-set refers to the changes, most obviously in sound and repertoire, that the Berlin Philharmonic underwent after Herbert von Karajan’s longstanding tenure, starting with the appointment of the late Claudio Abbado in 1989 and continued with the arrival of Simon Rattle in 2002. Changes, unavoidable and necessary of course, but often needlessly placed in a confrontational black and white, opposing Karajan as the epitome of artistic stagnation against his successors as the Berliner’s saving grace. Yet precisely a selection of concerts like this questions not only which direction the orchestra has been heading, and what has been gained of real value, it also hints at the limitations of Sir Simon’s often admired versatility in choice of repertoire. (In this respect one wonders if these older maestros would ever have released four concerts in which not one single performance was at least something truly exceptional?)

In the liner notes Simon Rattle is quoted as saying that different composers need to be played differently. The first disc of the New Year’s Eve Concert from 2007, titled in the booklet as “the revolution in Russian music”, ironically seems to suggest the exact opposite. This sounds neither Russian and even less a revolution – not even a German one. It’s simply a run-of-the-mill, low-voltage concert with a conductor venturing on unfamiliar ground. The Borodin Symphony is bland and about as Russian as Hasenpfeffer and Pumpernickel, yet it are the Mussorgsky Pictures that suffer most of all from Rattle who apparently was in constant ritenuto mode this evening. The superficial brilliance of the Berliner cannot make up for some undistinguished solo playing from winds and brass and the massive sonority of the ensemble. It’s not Mussorgsky, it’s not even Ravel – and it’s definitely no consolation it sometimes comes close to Brahms.

The Waldbühne “Russian Rhythms” concert is primarily a happy open air bring-classical-music-to-the-masses event that nothing can and will spoil – who wouldn’t want to hear the Rite of Spring in a chilly night in the pouring rain? – and has arguably little value except as a souvenir for those present. It opens with three hastily dispatched Tchaikovsky Nutcracker bits, only emphasizing Rattle’s complete lack of affinity with this music (why bother with just the three first numbers from the ballet in a concert anyway?) His traversal of The Rite of Spring is on the other hand the perfect illustration of what Richard Taruskin called the “showcase of orchestral prowess” which Stravinsky’s most talked-about work has become. The Berlin Philharmonic plays impressively (the woodwinds are favored in the mix, yet not many formations can top such ravishing colors) but virtually all tension, darkness and surprise (except for the occasional Rattle mannerism) has disappeared. That there are still approaches possible that can pack a punch, however, is proven by Salonen, Jansons, Boulez, Dorati, Markevitch and the likes. In between, Yefim Bronfman’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Third is more rewarding. It’s a polished reading, effortless, well-balanced and well accompanied, without pathos or excess but boasting a warm sonority.

The two European Concerts present Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic of the 21st century in a much more propitious light and are by far the most convincing of this box-set. The 2007 edition took place in a none too attractive old Berlin factory (the acoustics seem to be good) and offers core-German repertory which (although this is no guarantee for success) has been in the orchestra’s repertory for a long time. (Interestingly, the orchestra is placed differently in this venue as in the traditional Viennese manner with violins divided and the basses lined at the back.) Rattle’s Prelude to Parsifal may be more posh than profound, but the Brahms Double Concerto featuring the ideally attuned Lisa Batiashvili on violin and Truls Mørk on cello is a magnificent performance in every respect. Dedicated to the great Mstislav Rostropovich who had died four days earlier, Rattle’s accompaniment is sensitive and finely balanced, securing beautiful playing from both soloists and orchestra. His Brahms Fourth, however, is colorful and contemplative rather than incisive and taut, and appears less than ideally focused in the latter half.

The final disc covers the 2009 edition which took place in Moscow, exactly 40 years after the orchestra’s first visit under Herbert von Karajan, in this very same hall of the illustrious Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Times have changed, thankfully, as the liner notes remind us: no more KGB surveillance, no more formally attired musicians (count the multicolored ties) and patrons, but also no more Dmitry Shostakovich moved to tears congratulating the orchestra and its conductor for the overwhelming performance. A fine concert, nonetheless, especially for Vadim Repin’s subtly poetic rendition of Max Bruch’s 1st Violin Concerto, sympathetically accompanied by Rattle, and a flexible and joyous account of Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. Rattle’s Beethoven Seventh however sounds like a work in progress; rhythmically alert and detailed, here too he brings out the fun, but little else – an efficient, but unsurprising reading. Compared to what Abbado and Karajan in their lifelong quests achieved in this symphony, or in Beethoven in general, with this same orchestra, this is more than a step back. But then again, theirs isn’t a tarnished legacy. It’s a tough act to follow.

Copyright © 2014, Marc Haegeman
First published on Classical Net.

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Sinbad in the land of boredom

Adolphe Adam: Le Corsaire
Maria Guttierez – the Slave-girl
Davit Galstyan – the Corsair
Takafumi Watanabe – the Sultan
Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse/David Coleman
Opus Arte Blu-ray OABD7140D PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio

Le Corsaire from Toulouse

Le Corsaire – Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse

In the 19th century it was standard practice to alter, edit, reorder and interpolate scores written for ballet productions. Even Tchaikovsky who never allowed others to chop up his music didn’t escape it; after his death his first ballet Swan Lake was revived in a staging which radically restructured the score and added other parts of his piano music orchestrated by Riccardo Drigo. Contrary to the recent trend in ballet productions which tries to go back as much as possible to the sources (similar to the period performance movement in baroque/classical music, the original choreography, dramaturgy, stage design as well as the music are sourced), to this very day scores are still rearranged at will to suit the desires of choreographers and producers. This is not an easy undertaking, as one needs to confront and do better than guys like Tchaikovsky, Delibes or even lesser gods like Adam, Minkus and Pugni, and they usually knew quite well what they were doing. That not everybody is up to it is painfully proven again by this new production of Adolphe Adam’s Le Corsaire featuring the French Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse. Premiered in 2013, the production is now released on DVD and Blu-ray by Opus Arte.
Read the full review on Classical Net

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Missed opportunity

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto #1 in B Flat minor, Op. 23; Symphony #4 in F minor, Op. 36
Denis Matsuev, piano
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov
Filmed live at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 2 December 2007
BelAir Classiques DVD BAC086 80m Mono

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Symphony #5 in E minor, Op. 64
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov
Filmed live at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 3 December 2007
BelAir Classiques DVD BAC087 46m Mono

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy
Variations on a Rococo Theme for Trumpet, Op. 33
Symphony #6 in B minor “Pathétiqué”, Op. 74

Sergei Nakariakov, trumpet
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov
Filmed live at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 5 December 2007
BelAir Classiques DVD BAC088 87m Mono

Tchaikovsky concerts of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic

Tchaikovsky concerts of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic

By the looks of it, this BelAir Classiques release had to be a true winner – three all-Tchaikovsky concerts of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic under their music director Yuri Temirkanov, recorded live on tour in Paris. Recent concert footage of this famous Russian formation is still quite rare, so three discs documenting the Philharmonic in their core repertory are most welcome. Yet as soon as you open the DVDs, you realize there is trouble ahead. “Unlike what is stated in the opening and closing credits of the program the orchestra conducted by Yuri Temirkanov is the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra”, warns the paper sleeve. The screen credits indeed claim this is the St. Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra, but to make sure (and for the better) it is the more famous Philharmonic alright. By opening the keep cases we also learn these concerts were already filmed as long ago as December 2007 during a stint at the Paris Théâtre des Champs Elysées. The Russian orchestra and Temirkanov are regular guests at this Paris venue, yet why it took almost seven years to release these films will remain a mystery.
Read the full review on Classical Net

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Glorious La Bayadère in HD

La Bayadère
Nikiya – Svetlana Zakharova
Gamzatti – Maria Alexandrova
Solor – Vladislav Lantratov
The Rajah – Aleksey Loparevich
The High Brahmin – Andrey Sitnikov
Artists of the Bolshoi Ballet
The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Pavel Sorokin
Choreography by Marius Petipa, additional choreography by Vakhtang Chabukiani, Nikolai Zubkovsky, Konstantin Sergeyev
Revived in a new choreographed version by Yuri Grigorovich
Filmed live at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, January 2013
BelAir Classiques Blu-ray BAC501 126m LPCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio

La Bayadere Bolshoi Ballet

La Bayadere Bolshoi Ballet

The successful live HD broadcasts from the great opera houses in movie theatres worldwide are bearing their fruits for the home video collector as well. The ballet performances filmed at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre over the last three or four years are gradually appearing on Blu-ray and DVD. La Bayadère is the latest title in the “Bolshoi Ballet HD Collection”, managed by the independent Paris-based video label BelAir Classiques, a series which has been growing from strength to strength with every new release.
Read the full review on Classical Net

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The Dutch National Ballet in The Nutcracker and Cinderella

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
Clara Staalboom – Anna Tsygankova
Prince/Mr. Drosselmeyer’s nephew – Matthew Golding
Nutcracker – James Stout
Mr. Drosselmeyer – Wolfgang Tietze
Mouse King – Alexander Zhembrovskyy
Artists of the Dutch National Ballet
Holland Symfonia/Ermanno Florio
Choreography by Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling
Filmed live at the Music Theatre in Amsterdam, 2011
Arthaus Musik Blu-ray 108087 108m PCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio

Serge Prokofieff: Cinderella
Cinderella – Anna Tsygankova
Prince Guillaume – Matthew Golding
Stepmother Hortensia – Larissa Lezhnina
Stepsister Edwina – Megan Zimny Grey
Stepsister Clementine – Nadia Yanowsky
Benjamin – Remi Wörtmeyer
Artists of the Dutch National Ballet
Holland Symfonia/Ermanno Florio
Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon
Filmed live at the Music Theatre in Amsterdam, 26 December 2012
Opus Arte Blu-ray OABD7126D 139m (incl. bonus) LPCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio

Cinderella by the Dutch National Ballet

Cinderella by the Dutch National Ballet

The Dutch National Ballet, the sole classical company in The Netherlands, is doing well on home video. The Blu-ray/DVD catalogue of the Amsterdam-based troupe is steadily growing with interesting titles, often linked to the successful practice of live broadcasts in movie theatres. Both Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Prokofieff’s Cinderella are of course popular favorites, yet the Dutch productions boast plenty of individual qualities to justify their purchase. While cast in a traditionally classical mold, the ballets reviewed here are not only spectacularly staged with grand sets and magnificent costumes that benefit from the high definition transfer in widescreen, they are also splendidly danced.
Read the full review on Classical Net

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Abbado: A Life Dedicated to Music

EuroArts 2059588 8DVDs, Widescreen 749min, PCM Stereo/Dolby Digital/DTS

A life dedicated to music

Claudio Abbado

To celebrate the 80th birthday of Claudio Abbado EuroArts reassembled a box of 8 DVDs – 7 concerts and a documentary – dubbed for the occasion “A life dedicated to music”. “Life” may be slightly over-ambitious within this context, yet the box covers the years 1994 to 2007, in effect, a crucial period in the life and career of the Italian maestro, including his unexpected departure from the Berlin Philharmonic, his battle against cancer, and his miraculous recovery marked by a renewed interest in new-generation orchestral culture. In 1986 Abbado had already founded the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, soon followed by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. After Berlin he moreover established the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, continuing a project inaugurated by Arturo Toscanini in the late 1930s, while the Orchestra Mozart which he formed in Bologna in 2004 gathers young musicians from various European countries. All these orchestras are represented in this box.
Read the full review on Classical Net