BEETHOVEN: Symphonies, piano concertos, Missa Solemnis,
Choral Fantasy, The Creatures of Prometheus (excerpts), String
Quartet, Op. 131. Egmont,
Coriolan, Leonore III, and King Stephen overtrures.
DGG's 7 disk Beethoven set of Leonard Bernstein performances is no bargain; it sells for the cost of 7 DVDs. It features live performances of all nine symphonies recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic 1977-1979, and each has a brief introduction by the conductor, fortunately as a supplement to each disk so they easily can be skipped. The orchestrated String Quartet was recorded in 1977, the overtures 1978-1981. The last three piano concertos were recorded in 1989, and soloist Kristian Zimmermann conducts the first two from the keyboard, recorded in 1991, a year after Bernstein's death. Homero Francesco was the pianist for the Choral Fantasy recorded in 1985, the Prometheus excerpts date from 1978. A major feature of this set is the magnificent recording of Missa Solemnis made in Amsterdam in 1978 with soprano Edda Moser, contralto Hanna Schwarz, tenor René Kollo, and bass Kurt Moll. Soloists in the Ninth are Gwyneth Jones, Hanna Schwarz, René Kollo and Kurt Moll, recorded in September 1979, ten years before Bernstein's famous performance commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall. It does seem odd that the collection includes the first two piano concertos as they aren't conducted by Bernstein. It would have been more attractive if DGG had included the conductor's electrifying performance of Fidelio recorded in Vienna in 1978 (REVIEW). Cameras are focused on Bernstein most of the time, and the artificially-produced "surround sound" is effective.
The "operas" of Schubert and Schumann are oddities. Fierrabras is autobiographical and we see Schubert preparing for a performance of a work he composed based on episodes from the life of the knight Fierrabras and his conversion to Christianity. None of the potential drama of this scenario is evident in Schubert's "opera." The music is quite beautiful, but there are no big scenas for any of the singers, and it is rather like almost three hours of Schubert lieder. The performances, recorded in March 2006, seem excellent, particularly those by tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the title role and soprano Juliane Banse as Emma, the woman he loves. Claus Guth's production is basic simplicity. The two-page booklet is not very helpful in clarifying history of Fierrabras, and it is surprising there is no list of tracks or timings. With an obscure score such as this viewers/listeners would find this important.
Genoveva also is from the Zurich Opera House, a production taped at an unidentified date in 2008. Schumann's four-act opera had its premiere in June 1850 with the composer conducting in Leipzig (but not at the Dresden Opera, which rejected it); there were but three performances. For good reason, Genoveva has fallen into oblivion, although there is an occasional revival—after all, it is by a major composer. Schumann wrote the libretto based on the medieval legend of Genevieve of Brabant. Siegfried, Count of Brabante, is called off to war and leaves his wife, Genoveva, in the care of his young servant, Golo. Golo desires her, but when she rejects him he falsely accuses her of adultery with the steward, Drago. When Siegfried learns of this, he orders Golo to kill Genoveva, but her life is saved and Golo's treachery revealed. Harnoncourt considers this to be "perhaps the most significant opera written during the second half of the 19th century." In 1996 the conductor made a recording of it; there also are recordings conducted by Gerd Albrecht and Kurt Masur. There are many interludes of Schumann at his best, but they are few and far between—and the opera is not short. This production was directed by Martin Kusej with sets designed by Rolf Glittenberg, costumes by Heidi Hacki. The basic set is a large white wall with a doorway in the center, a sink basin and large mirror to its left. Principal characters are on stage most of the time. The performance seems to do what can be done with this music. Video and audio are satisfactory, but this DVD is very low on my viewing list.
R.E.B. (January 2009)