I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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New York City Ballet in Paris – Balanchine, New York – Paris

Charles Gounod: Walpurgisnacht Ballet
Maurice Ravel: Sonatine, La Valse
Georges Bizet: Symphony in C

New York City Ballet
Choreography by George Balanchine
Orchestre Prométhée/Daniel Capps
Recorded in Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, July 2016
BelAir Classiques BAC 439, 1080i Full-HD, PCM 2.0 / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 106 mins

New York City Ballet in Paris

New York City Ballet in Paris

Of today’s top ballet companies, New York City Ballet is one of the least well represented on home video – a sorry fact the American dancers share with their colleagues from the Royal Danish Ballet in Europe. The company preserves one of the most significant and groundbreaking choreographic legacies on the planet – with George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins at its core – and is a foremost promoter of contemporary work. Yet, even in these multimediatized times, performance videos which highlight repertory and current dancers of New York City Ballet remain a precious rarity.

What a superb idea it was, then, to film the company while on tour in Paris in the summer of 2016, performing a selection of its traditional repertory. The choice was, I assume, readily made. The connection between Balanchine and the French capital is legendary. All four ballets assembled here are set to French music and both Walpurgisnacht and Symphony in C were even created for the Paris Opera. Often with nothing but light as setting and very simple costuming (except La Valse with its hints of a ballroom and slightly decadent gowns), and utterly delightful music (Gounod, Bizet and Ravel) to boast, this program is a continuous joy and may serve as an antidote against those trying to reduce dance to darkness, violence and angst. In these troubled times a shot of Balanchine is by all means a very welcome night out. By their intelligence, musicality, sense of harmony and purity of intent, his ballets are beacons of light and hope, and by their perennial modernity, continuing sources of delight and inspiration.

Try the lovely Sonatine from 1975 on a rainy day: just two dancers and a pianist on stage, yet it all is brought with effortless dignity, simple charm, and sunlit grace by Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz. In no time you will feel better. This is also a disc to admire the New York City Ballet dancers of today. Like the wonderful Sara Mearns in the romantically wild and theatrical Walpurgisnacht Ballet. Or Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar both superb in La Valse (combining Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales with La Valse proper), offering dramatic contrast. Finally, the irresistible Symphony in C, originally made as Palais de Cristal for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1947, a magnificent showcase for the company’s health and strength. Soloists and ensemble appear in tremendous form and if this performance is in any way representative of the current state of New York City Ballet, then the company is doing really well indeed.

With François Duplat and Vincent Bataillon as the producer-director team, well known from the successful “Bolshoi Ballet HD Collection” distributed by BelAir Classiques, we are in good hands too. They know their trade and have given us some of the best filmed ballet performance videos in recent times. “New York City Ballet in Paris” is no exception. The camerawork and editing is in effect pretty simple and straightforward, but you always see what you need to see in a ballet.

This video comes without any bonus features, but here is the dance speaking for itself as only Balanchine could master it, and it deserves a place in any serious ballet video collection. New York City Ballet brought several programs on its extensive 2016 Paris tour. May we hope for some more goodies, and not only the historical repertory but also new creations, from the treasure chest?

Warmly recommended.

© 2017 Marc Haegeman. All rights reserved


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Grigorovich’s Golden Age revived

Dmitri Shostakovich: The Golden Age
Nina Kaptsova – Rita, a young girl
Ruslan Skvortsov – Boris, a young fisherman
Mikhail Lobukhin – Yashka, a gang leader
Ekaterina Krysanova – Lyushka, Yashka’s accomplice
Vyacheslav Lopatin – Variety show compere
Artists of the Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, Pavel Klinichev
Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich.
Filmed live at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, October 2016
BelAir Classiques Blu-ray BAC443, 103 min, PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

The Bolshoi in The Golden Age

The Bolshoi in The Golden Age

After a two year break the successful “Bolshoi Ballet HD Collection”, released by the Paris-based video label BelAir Classiques, is back on track again with Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Golden Age, the last ballet from long-time Bolshoi director Yuri Grigorovich. “Last” may be somewhat misleading here, since The Golden Age – or The Age of Gold, as may be more common – was premiered as long ago as 1982, but turned out to be the final original creation of the Bolshoi master. And come to think of it, the age wasn’t particularly golden at the time of the ballet’s premiere, as criticism against Grigorovich’s authoritative rule and artistic output was gradually mounting and would eventually lead to his eviction some ten years later – but that’s another story.

Fact is, most of Grigorovich’s ballets remained in the Bolshoi repertory, often resurfacing after several years in a more or less updated guise. The Golden Age is performed only by the Bolshoi and has unlike other Grigorovich’s ballets never been staged elsewhere. In Moscow it was last danced ten years ago and recently revived again in the lead-up to the 90th anniversary celebrations of the choreographer earlier this year. While undoubtedly not a masterpiece, this is the first official release of the ballet on Blu-ray and DVD and will be most welcome to all devotees of the Bolshoi and Russian ballet.

Grigorovich’s The Golden Age is itself an adaptation of the 1930 production, which like all evening-length ballets composed by Dmitri Shostakovich fell out of grace and was banned soon after the premiere. The blatant Communist rejection of so-called bourgeois decadence of the original plot, culminating in a soccer match between soviet youths and bourgeois fascists, was recycled into a love story set against the conflict between pure white-clad fishermen and a depraved black-shirted gang of thugs in some 1920’s Russian seaport. It’s the same naive black and white opposition, but the luggage is far less heavy this time. The inclusion of references to Lenin’s New Economic Policy in the rework however will be lost on most viewers today.

Seeing the ballet again, for all its simplicity, I still feel it is confusingly told, while much of Grigorovich’s stylized choreography is too crude and repetitive to survive the 100 or so minutes running time. As for the Bolshoi’s current take on it, I guess it helps if you haven’t seen the original casts in the 1980s. Today’s Ruslan Skvortsov, Nina Kaptsova, Mikhail Lobukhin and Ekaterina Krysanova are excellent dancers, yet none will ever erase memories of an Irek Mukhamedov or a Gediminas Taranda, who could transform cardboard into intensely potent characters. But that’s just how it goes with revivals: different times, different dancers, same ballets. Surprisingly perhaps for the Bolshoi, it are the quieter moments, like the love adagio’s between Kaptsova and Skvortsov, that work best here.

This new installment in the “Bolshoi Ballet HD Collection”, filmed live in October 2016 on the smaller New Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre, is visually and soundwise a real treat. As we have come to expect from the Vincent Bataillon/François Duplat team The Golden Age offers a first-rate ballet-at-home experience. Thankfully gone are the days of shoddy Soviet filming, unable to master the frequent changes from bright to dark in these productions. The full HD transfer on Blu-ray looks particularly impressive with a wealth of detail and lovely, natural colors. Camerawork is as good as it gets with a well-judged mix between longshots and close-ups.

The sonics are equally superb in the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix, enhancing the impact of Shostakovich’s brilliant music. His ballet scores remain largely unknown to the general public, except perhaps in the form of suites. This is the young composer at his most confidently satirical, exemplifying in his music the capitalist depravity with a series of parodied western dance forms like polka, tango and foxtrot. Grigorovich interpolated the slow movements from Shostakovich’s Piano Concertos for the lyrical moments in his adaptation. Interestingly, they give the score which can at times sound relentless a rounder appearance. It all comes vividly alive by the Bolshoi Orchestra under Pavel Klinichev.

This release comes without any extras. Bolshoi fans won’t hesitate to purchase this title, of course, and BelAir Classiques serves them well with splendid video and audio quality. Yet the older ones won’t be entirely convinced by the Bolshoi’s current way with The Golden Age.

© 2017 Marc Haegeman. All rights reserved


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Italian bandits in French style danced by Russians (and an American)

Adolphe Adam: Marco Spada, or The Bandit’s Daughter
David Hallberg – Marco Spada
Evgenia Obraztsova – Angela
Olga Smirnova – Marchesa Sampietri
Semyon Chudin – Prince Federici
Igor Tsvirko – Count Pepinelli
Artists of the Bolshoi Ballet
The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Alexey Bogorad
Choreography by Pierre Lacotte
Filmed live at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, March 2014
BelAir Classiques Blu-ray BAC413 126m+23m (bonus) LPCM DTS-HD Master Audio

Marco Spada

Marco Spada

The “Bolshoi Ballet HD Collection” released by the independent Paris-based video label BelAir Classiques, has thus far been exemplary in producing ballet for home video, offering superb quality in all respects. The latest title in the series, Marco Spada, is unfortunately something of a mixed blessing. For one thing this ballet – a contemporary rewrite by French choreographer Pierre Lacotte of a lost 19th-century creation – is a true rarity. Marco Spada, or The Bandit’s Daughter set to music from Daniel Auber is a sparkling and colorful evening-length dance divertissement, a jolly romp in a sumptuously traditional setting, danced by a tremendous cast that assembles some of the most exciting dancers gracing the Bolshoi company at the moment. Yet all these goodies come with a price, a technical issue. There is some judder noticeable in the Blu-ray resulting in a slight stutter in movements or panning. (The disc was tried on two different players and TVs with the exact same result, while the problem was also mentioned on internet forums as well.) Nothing that would make the disc unwatchable, but still something that should have been avoided.
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