WAGNER: Prelude to Die Meistersinger. SEREBRIER: Symphony No. 3 "Symphonie mystique." MUSSORGSKY-STOKOWSKI: A Night on Bare Mountain. Pictures at an Exhibition. BIZET: Farandole from L'Arlesienne.
Carole Farley, soprano; National Youth Orchestra of Spain/José Serebrier, cond.
NAXOS DVD VIDEO 2.110230 (M) TT: 84 min.

BRETÓN: La Verbena de la Paloma.
José Antonio López (Julian); Amparo Navarro (Susana); Maria José Suárez (Casta); David Rubiera (Don Hilarion); Emilio Sánchez (Don Sebastian); Marina Pardo (Seña Rita); Federico Gallar (Uncle Antonio); Nuria Castejon (Flamenco Dancer); Christina Luar (Severiana); Felipe Garcia-Vao (Barman); Chorus and Orchestra of Communidad de Madrid/Miguel Roa, cond.
DECCA DVD VIDEO 074 3262 (F) TT: 75 min + 12 min. documentary

KARAJAN - A film by Robert Dornhelm

We already know of the incredible accomplishments of youth orchestras and their importance on today's music scene. Here is another example, featuring the National Youth Orchestra of Spain (JONDE). This is not a music education program as is the remarkable program in Venezuela. It was formed in 1983 for the purpose of assisting musicians before they begin their professional careers, with meetings several times a year to work with top professionals, followed by concerts and tours. This DVD offers a concert presented August 7, 2007 at Chester Cathedral in England, with José Serebrier conducting (fascinating to watch him—he very much resembles Willem Mengelberg). It is a rather unusual concert opening with the Wagner prelude and continuing with the conductor's "Symphonie mystique," a sombre, brooding work in four sections, with the wordless, mystic soprano solo in the last movement sung by Carole Farley stationed in the balcony. High point of this concert is the vivid performances of two of Leopold Stokowski's spectacular orchestrations of Mussorgsky: Night on Bare Mountain and Pictures at an Exhibition. Serebrier already has recorded both of these for a Naxos SACD with the Bournemouth Symphony (see REVIEW), but these live performances have an excitement of their own. A plus is the terrific sonic quality. Mark Rogers produced the recording with Mike Cox as recording engineer, and they have tamed the church's resonant acoustics to provide clarity and impact as well as richness. An outstanding release!

Thomas Bréton's La Verbena de la Paloma ("Our Lady of the Dove") is perhaps the best-known example of the Spanish zarzuela, a simple story of a working man (Julian) jealous when his girlfriend (Susan) shows interest in another man (Don Hilario, a chemist) This DVD offers Marina Bollain's updated version recorded in 2006 during Madrid's new Festival de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. In this Bollain makes some changes to the score and adds a few dances; her comments and those of conductor Miguel Roa can be heard/seen in a 12-minute interview, that doesn't convince this viewer the changes are for the better. The set is simple: nine rather small "rooms," three in a row, three high, each with a curtain that opens when appropriate. Characters move from one chamber to another as necessary, and for the big dance sequences move to the space in front of the primary set. Everyone seems to be having a great time, but for the true Spanish flavor, listen to the recently reissued Naïve Madrid set that contains four zarzuela, including La Verbena de la Paloma starring Plácido Dominto and Maria Bayo, in magnificent, idiomatic performances, and at budget price (see REVIEW).

Robert Dornhelm's film Karajan is subtitled "Beauty As I See It," which is never explained in the documentary. This ambitious film on the life of Herbert von Karajan includes some footage never before issued, particularly a brief excerpt from the Prelude to Die Meistersinger from Paris, 1941. We also see many clips from DGG's other Karajan video (see REVIEW). As in the latter film, we see Karajan at home with his third wife (no mention of the first two), and many rehearsal excerpts in some of which he shows a surprising sense of humor. One of his daughters says that when he was sailing he would tell dirty jokes (also surprising), and again we see him in his jet—although commentary points out that on his airborn adventures there always was a pilot to make certain Karajan had done everything essential for safe flight—which apparently he did not always do. There are many interviews/comments by Christa Ludwig, Gundula Janowitz, Anne-Sophie Mutter René Kollo, Seiji Ozawa and Christian Thielmann, as well as Sir Simon Rattle who glosses over Karajan's Nazi affiliation. Mariss Jansons talks about Karajan's Vienna State Opera production of Otello, but we see excerpts from his later Berlin filmed version (see REVIEW). There are 11 separate chapters to the film, not identified either in the film or DVD booklet. Advertising this release as a high definition film with 5.1 DTS surround sound is misleading—video and sound quality seldom fit the description.

R.E.B. (June 2008)