MASSENET: Manon
Natalie Dessay (Manon Lescaut); Rolando Villazón (Des Grieux); Manuel Lanza (Lescaut); Samuel Ramey (Comte Des Grieux); Francisco Vas (Guillot de Morfontaine); Didier Henry (De Brétigny); Christina Obregón (Poussette); Marisa Martins (Javotte); Anna Tobela (Rosette); Lluis Sintes (L'hotelier); Claudia Schneider (Servant); Orchestra and Chorus of Gran Teatre del Liceu/Victor Pablo Pérez, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 5050689 (2 disks) TT: 175 min.
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LEIF OVE ANDSNES - Ballade for Edvard Grieg
Documentary on life and music of Edvard Grieg including live performances of Ballade in G minor, Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, and Lyric Pieces
EMI CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 5 12128 TT: 140 min.
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McCARTNEY: Ecce Cor Meum "Behold My Heart."
Kate Royal, soprano; Colm Carey, organ; Mark Law, piccolo trumpet; London Voices; Boys of Magdalen College Choir; Boys of King's College Choir; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Gavin Greenaway, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 5 00733 TT: 47 min. + 47 min. documentary
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This performance of Massenet's Manon was recorded June 24, 27 and 30, 2007 at Gran Teatre del Liceu with a superb cast conducted by Victor Pablo Pérez. Produced by David McVicar, the period sets and costumes are by Tanya McCallin, choreography by Michael Keegan-Dolan, all combining to create a realistic picture of 18th century France. Natalie Dessay of course has no vocal problems whatever with the demanding title role, and she is a remarkable actress as well—and it always is a pleasure to see Villazón. The considerable bonus is a one-hour documentary of rehearsals featuring Dessay and Villazón with director McVicar. Video is sensible, audio rather diffuse. This set has strong competition from the 1983 Vienna State Opera production featuring Edita Gruberova's dazzling performance (see REVIEW).

EMI's issue entitled Ballade for Edvard Grieg with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes is a rather odd release. Produced by Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, it includes the pianist as informal "guide" through Europe focusing on Grieg's major solo piano work, Ballade in G minor, and how he came to compose it. Excerpts from other works of the composer are included in the documentary, along with a complete performance of the Ballade recorded in Grieg Hall, Bergen, in 2007, a concert performance of the Piano Concerto in A minor with the Bergen Philharmonic directed by Ole Kristian Ruud (plus three encores from that concert), and six short solo works played on the composer's own piano filmed in his home in Troldhaugen . We get to view Andsnes playing the piano on a mountain cliff, and stills from this film fill the 2-page accompanying booklet—space that should have been used for track listings, timings and recording dates. Audio quality is adequate, video focuses intensely on Andsnes most of the time when it should be elsewhere. Of interest only to the staunchest fans of Andsnes.

One cannot doubt Paul McCartney's sincerity in composing his large-scale choral work. Ecce Cor Meum. Partially written in memory of his wife Linda who died from cancer in 1998, it was commissioned some years earlier by Anthony Smith, then president of Magdalen College, who wanted to have a choral work that could be sung by young people the world over in the same way that Handel's Messiah is.In its initial form, Ecce Cor Meum ("Behold My Heart") had its premiere in 2001 and it was obvious the work needed more time—and inspiration. McCartney eventually supplied much of this, and the revised work had its premiere in London's Royal Albert Hall in November 2006, issued on EMI's new DVD. McCartney has a standing ovation both before and after the performance; he can do no wrong to the thousands of people crowded into Royal Albert Hall. The performance surely is superb, audio quality outstandingly fine (although glamorous soprano Kate Royal seems a bit off mike). Although Ecce Cor Meum is lovely to listen to, it surely is not a modern choral masterpiece. Pleasant enough but unmemorable. Production of this DVD is not ideal. There is no listing of tracks or timings, and if you want to know more about the music you'll have to watch the lengthy—and wordy—documentary.

R.E.B. (March 2008)

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