TCHAIKOVSKY: The Tempest, Op. 18. RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. STRAVINSKY: The Firebird Suite.
Hélène Grimaud, piano; Lucerne Festival Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHON DVD VIDEO 0040 073 4530 TT: 80 min + 6:00 extra

MESSIAEN: Saint François d'Assise
Camilla Tilling (The Angel); Rod Gilfry (Saint Françoise); Hubert Delamboye (The Leper); Henk Neven (Frère Léon); Tom Randle (Frère Massée); Donald Kaasch (Frère Élie); Armand Arapian (Frère Bernard); Jan Willem Baljet (Frère Sylvestre); André Morsch (Frère Rufin); Chorus of the Netherlands Opera; Hague Philharmonic Orch/Ingo Metzmacher, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD VIDEO OA 10007 (3 disks) TT: 275 min.

This Arthaus DVD offers a documentary about the life of American artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), a major, avant-garde "artist" who was called by Time Magazine "Jack the Dripper." His work revolutionized the art world—he was accepted by the radical art element as their ideal. He originated "action painting" with his basic technique of pouring or dripping paint onto a canvas on the floor. On this DVD we can see him at work, throwing paint abstractly on a canvas. While I admit that often these can be compelling, is it really "art" or just a collage of colors? Perhaps some will remember the spin paintings featured at carnivals some years ago. One paid $1 and had about a minute to pour or splash various paints onto a paper canvas on a spinning disk, and could then take their "masterpiece" home. I have several of these, and they look quite similar to some works of Pollock—and cost much less. And I would never claim they are "masterpieces." A contemporary artist, Damien Hirst (check him on the internet) also uses the spin painting technique (as well as incorporating dead animals into his "art"). Supposedly the richest artist ever, he once sold a work to a theatre director who paid more than $50,000 for it, only to find that it was a spin painting done by two children. The phony modern art works lives on this sort of thing. Should you wish to to learn more about Pollock's work, get this adulatory DVD.

A Russian Night was filmed at the Lucerne Festival August 22, 2008. Claudio Abbado helped to establish the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2003. It is a virtuoso ensemble with many players from major orchestras who make time in their schedules to be able to perform under the venerable conductor. The concert opens with a vivid account of Tchaikovsky's The Tempest followed by Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 with Hélène Grimaud as soloist. When she made her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1995, she played this concerto with Abbado on the podium. It is a lovely performance emphasizing rich orchestral textures in the accompaniment—with the camera always in the right place.It is a pleasure to watch Grimaud play, The concert ends with a glorious performance of the 1919 Firebird suite. Video is excellent, but audio is not well-balanced. The piano should have been miked more closely; unfortunately much detail is lost. As a bonus we have a six-minute interview with Grimaud.

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) wrote only one opera, Saint François d'Assise. It tells the story of St. Francis of Assisi in eight tableaux: The Cross, Lauds, The Journeying Angel, The Angel-Musician, The Sermon to the Birds, The Stigmata, and Death and the New Life. Messiaen's mystic style of writing is perfect for the subject. A huge orchestra is used, but sparingly, and the textures are rich but generally subdued. Pierre Audi's production is perfect, sensitive to the subject. Movement is limited, and there are no big arias or spectacular scenes. The cast could not be bettered, video is exemplary, and the surround sound envelops us in Messiaen's magic world. This is something very special, and a definitive performance of a magnificent work.

R.E.B. (November 2009)