NIELSEN: Symphony No. 2, Op. 16 "The Four Temperaments."
MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection:"
VAI offers the collector a valuable release—a performance of Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 2 with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski from a concert in 1967 (Oliver Daniel's book gives the specific date as August 4). It seems surprising that the great conductor who championed so much new music throughout his entire life seems to have ignored Denmark's greatest composer until late in his career. In 1965 he conducted Symphony No. 6 with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, a performance available on BBC Legends (see REVIEW). In the list of Stokowski recordings in Daniel's book there is an indication there were plans for a commercial recording of this symphony, but for whatever reason, it never materialized until EMI included this performance in their Stokowski compilation (EMI Classics 75480—see REVIEW). This valuable set has been discontinued; perhaps it eventually will be included in ArkivMusik's reissue series? It is a pleasure to watch the Maestro, 85 at the time, so alert and communicative with the orchestra. A worthy addition to the video catalog, indeed. The concert ended with Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, the Prelude to Mussorgskky's Khovantschina and a suite from Stravinsky's Petrouchka. We can hope perhaps these eventually will be issued on video—they easily could have been accommodated on VAI's issue. ! A bonus is an 8-minute interview with Stokowski. Black and white photography is adequate as is the monophonic sound. There are no program notes, just a single page that lists the basics (and omits timings). It would be intriguing to know more about circumstances of the concert; it appears Danish Royalty is present, but nothing is explained about this.
This "Resurrection" is most unusual indeed. We have Mahler's mighty Symphony No. 2 performed by the WDR Symphony Orchestra, NDR Choir, WDR Radio Choir, soprano Karina Gauvin and mezzo-soprano Yvonne Naef, conducted by Semyon Bychkov. The concert was given in the Kölner Philharmonie January 1, 2006 and was an "interactive visualisation." The set includes three disks, two of which are CDs containing just the music, the other, the DVD, contains the "visualization." As the music was played, those in the hall saw the pre-programmed electronic "visualisation" of the score projected in 3-D on a large screen behind the orchestra. Johannes Deutsch and Ars Electronica Futurelab Linz created these visual effects. Special features on the DVD include "Making of Vision Mahler," an interview with Semyon Bychkov, a picture gallery of Vision Mahler, "Gesichtsraum," an interactive film by Deutsch, and a" legible score of the Vision Mahler" (don't expect the score to Mahler's symphony—it isn't there). The documentary information gives much information about how these images came to be. Deutsch works with countless computer-generated images that are altered in movement, color and shape by dynamics of the music, sometimes arbitrarily so. Many of these are cubes or circles and often suggest fruits or vegetables.At the beginning of the DVD, Deutsche explains his concept to the audience which is wearing 3-D glasses. When the performance begins we see only the electronic visualization of the score.
I have no problems with this sort of audio/visual experimentation. I loved Fantasia and still do—and you may remember that in the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor abstract figures were very effectively used—and that was almost 68 years ago! It seems hard to believe that with today's technology it wouldn't be possible to come up with something more imaginative than what is seen on this new set. One wonders why this wasn't issued on DVD in 3-D? Obviously that is the way it was intended to be viewed, and perhaps it would impress more in that format. One surely wouldn't get this set for the performance of the Mahler symphony, not particularly well played and recorded with a dry acoustic that hardy does justice to the music.
The 2 CDs and DVD are in a rather elaborate cardboard box. The symphony would not fit onto a single CD and producers unwisely have elected to place just the final movement onto the second disk. This finale should follow the previous movement without pause, made impossible as tracked here. They easily could have placed just the first movement onto a single disk and avoided this. Why didn't someone think about this?
Glazunov's Raymonda is Russian ballet at its best, a colorful scenario filled with countless nationalistic dances. Glazounov wrote some of his loveliest music for this score. It's surprising there aren't more recordings of orchestral music from this delightful ballet. Any new video is welcome, and this VAI issue has much to offer in spite of its limitations. A previous DVD with the Bolshoi Ballet was mentioned on this site (REVIEW), as well as a Rudolf Nureyev documentary (REVIEW) .This Raymonda was filmed in 1980 at the Kirov Theatre featuring Irina Kolpakova and Sergei Berezhnoi as the lovers. Considering the date, iIt seems odd that this is a mono recording, but the sound is reasonably well balanced. Photography is adequate, little more. The biggest problem with this issue is, aside from lack of important documentation, limited tracks. There are only six tracks for the entire ballet!! None of the numerous individual dances are tracked, an inconvenience indeed. And if you wish to know who performers are other than the three leading dancers, you'll have to read the credits at the end and even then all information is in Russian. A little more time and effort in production would have made this release far more attractive.
R.E.B. (March 2008)