STRAVINSKY: The Firebird - Suite (1919 version). RACHMANINOFF: Symphony
No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27.
DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisande
VERDI: Il trovatore
Euroarts has released TV telecasts of Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in two of his showpieces, Stravinsky's Firebird suite, and Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2. Ormandy had taken over leadership of the orchestra in 1936 and remained with them until 1980; he died five years later. Both of these performances were filmed towards the end of Ormandy's leadership, the Stravinsky from 1977, the Rachmaninoff from 1979. Glorious performances played to perfection, well photographed with the camera often on Ormandy. It is a pleasure to observe his controlled authority—no histrionic displays from him! Audio is surprisingly good although lacking in low bass because of dry acoustics of the Academy of Music, and it surely is not true surround sound. Of great interest is a 9-minute feature in which Ormandy talks about his association with Rachmaninoff. This is an important release.
A disappointing Zurich production of Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande conducted by Franz Welser-Möst has been mentioned on this site (REVIEW). Now we have a more standard presentation of this mystic, gossamer "opera" that has no arias per se, and an obtuse plot, little action. and even with subtitles is difficult for most to follow . Soprano Natalie Dessay, a master of coloratura, has to her credit many superlative recordings and DVDs; a disk sampling many of these has been reviewed on this site (REVIEW). You will hear no vocal fireworks in Debussy's masterpiece. The performance does what can be done for this music, with an excellent cast throughout, and Dessay's husband, bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, as Golaud. Video is adequate and the surround sound beautifully captures Debussy's shimmering score. My copy did not include program notes or a listing of tracks—that would be helpful for most viewers.
Herbert von Karajan had particular fondness for Verdi's Il trovatore. At the beginning of his career, he conducted it in German at Aachen in 1934, and in 1956 made a famous recording in Milan with Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano. Vocal collectors have long treasured his 1962 Salzburg performance with Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli both in magnificent voice—what a performance that was! For years it was available on private disks until DGG finally issued it commercially. Karajan and Price, and tenor Franco Bonisoli, made a commercial recording in Berlin in 1977, that misses the excitement of the 1962 live performance. Karajan wished to televise a Vienna State Opera production in 1978, for which he would be stage director as well as conductor, but the project was plagued with problems. Bonisolli, who was in the previous year's recording, was not in top form. When the audience at an early performance showed its displeasure, he quit the production, creating a dilemma, solved when Plácido Domingo arrived on the scene. In spite of his busy schedule, he arranged to sing Manrico in two performances—including the one to be televised. It meant a slight postponement of the video taping, which took place May 1, 1978. By this time Karajan, was overly cautious in his interpretation, and there's little excitement here compared with his earlier performances. The weak link in the singers is soprano Raina Kabaivanska, who looks terrific, but is a light-weight Leonora. She gets through it, but cannot match Price in either of her recordings. Günther Schneider-Siemssen did the TV adaptation, doubtless under total scrutiny from Karajan. The stage is usually dark, video is often fuzzy, the stereo disappointing with particularly dull orchestral sound. This performance was released about a decade ago on RCA CD.
R.E.B. (January 2010)