"Herbert von Karajan Memorial Concert"
"Van Cliburn in Moscow"
January 28, 2008 a memorial concert was presented in Vienna's Musikvereinsaal by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Herbert von Karajan. Seiji Ozawa conducted and the soloist was violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter whose career was strongly influenced by Karajan as was Ozawa's. Two works were featured: Beethoven's Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, and Mutter's encore, the Sarabande from Bach's Partita No. 2, is included. It was an extraordinary concert in every way and now we have it on this splendid Blu-ray disk. Recorded sound is of the highest quality—this is the Berlin Philharmonic in top form. A 10-minute "bonus" features Ozawa and Mutter talking of their relationship with Karajan. Agnes Méth was video director, Alexander Stangl was director of photography. Both apparently wanted to prove they knew the scores as well as the performers—there are many brief close ups of solos, and sometimes when cymbals are played we see them so close we see only part of the instrument. And often the camera is unflatteringly focused on Ozawa and it very clear that age has taken its toll. What happened to full-stage shots of the entire orchestra? If you don't mind this micro-managed video, you'll enjoy this disk.
The Van Cliburn DVD is a continuation of the worthy VAI Video International series of videos featuring the celebrated American pianist who won the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 and continued to return there frequently. Already mentioned on this site are VAI's releases of concertos of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Grieg (REVIEW), and Rachmaninoff (REVIEW). Now we have this recital recorded in two concerts in the Moscow Conservatory's Great Hall: the Rachmaninoff in 1960, the Brahms and Prokofiev in 1972. Cliburn seems almost larger than life in these stunning performances, with a particularly telling account of the Rachmaninoff sonata, played in its original version. Audio is good enough to convey the performances, video usually focusing on what it should. An essential release for admirers of Cliburn!
A Zurich Opera presentation of Wagner's Tannhäuser was mentioned on this site several years ago (REVIEW) as was the 1982 Otto Schenk Met production conducted by James Levine (REVIEW). Neither are challenged by this new one from the 2008 Baden-Baden Festspielhaus. Nikolaus Lehnhoff is stage director with sets by Raimund Bauer, costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer. After the overture the famous Bacchanale begins, and instead of an orgy we see about a dozen odd creatures (some of them rather chunky) in body stockings rather looking as if they stepped out of E.T. moving about in coordinated, convoluted movements. As this is going on, we see Waltraud Meier as Venus standing motionless wearing a huge red fright wig that makes her look like Carol Burnett's Bride of Frankenstein. She is in fine form vocally as is Camilla Nyland as Elizabeth. As proof there is a definite shortage of Wagnerian tenors today, we have Robert Gambrill in the title role— who is definitely having an off-day. He simply cannot sing this demanding role. What point is there in watching a performance that visually is so unappealing and vocally lacks a tenor unable to do justice to the title role? This is a non-review—I never watched this performance to the end. There is a 58-minute documentary explaining this production of Wagner's masterpiece. Stick with the Metropolitan Opera version which is beautifully sung and a visual treat as well.
R.E.B. (April 2009)