BRITTEN: War Requiem
KHACHATURIAN: Gayne Ballet. Excerpts from Gayne and Spartacus.
"Wild About Liszt"
A major addition to the DVD library is VAI's issue of the historic telecast of July 27, 1963 of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. Prior to this time, the Boston Symphony had a distinguished history with the composer's music. The Koussevitzky Music Foundation commissioned Peter Grimes which received its American premiere at Tanglewood in 1946 conducted by Leonard Bernstein, and three years later both Albert Herring and Spring Symphony had their American premieres with Koussevizky conducting. Erich Leinsdorf selected War Requiem for his first season at Tanglewood. The event was highly praised at the time and rightfully so, and we have the opportunity to observe the superb American soprano Phyllis Curtain at her best in the demanding soprano part. The original telecast was in adequate stereo, the B/W camera work is excellent with the camera usually where it should be. Don't expect much sonically, but the sound is always sufficiently good to convey the dedicated performance.
Khachaturian's ballet Gayne (also known as Gayaneh and Gayane) was premiered at the Kirov Ballet December 9, 1942. Gayne is a woman who lives on a collective farm and helps capture a spy who was planning on stealing Soviet secret information—not much of a story but it does give the composer the opportunity to write a series of colorful native dances including the vivid Sabre Dance that became a world-wide hit.VAI's video is the only one available of the ballet, from a 1964 performance at the Bolshoi Theatre by the Latvian Opera and Ballet Company conducted by Alexander Vilijumanis. We don't know what the ballet looked like at the 1942 premiere. What is seen on this DVD is is an adaptation by Boris Eif man who "scuttled the original scenario, focusing instead on the shifting relationships between Gayne, Armen and Giko." Sets are bare, costumes appropriate. Principal dancers are excellent, the orchestral playing is acceptable, color photography barely adequate, and sound limited. However, of great interest are the "bonus" features, the final act of Gayne with fine dancers from the Bolshoi Theatre conducted by the composer (who can be seen only briefly), a 1964 Soviet TV production. Also we have the Act II adagio from Spartacus with Maya Plisetskaya and Maris Liepa from l971, the Adagio from Gayne with Nina Timofeyeva and Yuri Kondratov, and the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from 1978 with Natalia Bessmertnova and Yuri Vladimirov, marred only by the Russian announcer heard over the beginning of the music. Bessmertnova is magnificent, even more so in the DVD of a 1997 production in which she is partnered by Vladimir Vasiliev (see REVIEW). Production values on this new release leave much to be desired. There are only 11 tracks for all of Gayne; there should have been separate tracks for all of the dances, and no timings are given. Still, this is a valuable issue for ballet fans.
Earl Wild has been dazzling audiences for almost eight decades (!!!).
Born November 26, 1914 in Pittsburgh, he came to public attention in
a major way in 1942 when he played Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with
the NBC Symphony conducted by Arturo Toscanini. His distinguished career
has included appearances with major orchestras throughout the world,
hundreds of recitals and many world premieres. He also is a fine composer
and has made many highly regarded transcriptions. Fortunately for collectors,
Wild has recorded prolifically, and his 1965 recordings of Rachmaninoff
concertos and Paganini Rhapsody is considered to be one of the
finest ever made. This new DVD set is welcome for many reasons in spite
of its mediocre production. To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the
death of Franz Liszt, in 1986 Wild gave a series of three recitals of
music of the composer: Liszt the Poet, Liszt the Transcriber and Liszt
the Virtuoso. That year the 9th Marquess of Londonderry invited
Wild to present these concerts at the Londonderry ancestral home in England,
Wynyard Park, where they were videotaped. Video quality is adequate but
no more, and at least the camera is in the right place most of the time.
Sound quality, too, is limited, but it is of great interest to watch
Wild play this music with such poise and ease. DVD production is substandard.
The small pamphlet that accompanies the 2-disk set gives some information
about the music but does not include a complete listing of the program—shouldn't
this be a basic requirement for every release? The second disk has separate
tracks, the first has none (!), a major inconvenience to say the least.
The set is still worth owning for two of the features, a BBC TV "Evening
with Earl Wild" from September 21, 1974, and a Dutch TV interview
with the pianist on the occasion of his 90th birthday concert in Amsterdam
September 25, 2005—but not particularly so for the third feature,
a documentary on Wynyard and Liszt recorded July 24-28, 1986 at the same
time as the recitals in that venue. Also worthy are the audio-only tracks
offering Wild speaking to the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music
November 6, 2003, an interview at the Mannes School International Keyboard
Festival July 20, 2003, John Amis on BBCs Talking About Music from
1986, and Sharon Eisenhour interviewing Wild on Philadelphia's WUHY in
July 1982. Wild is candid and engrossing in these enjoyable, informal
and informative interviews. A worthy issue in spite of its deficiencies.