SZYMANOWSKI: King Roger
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93
'BATONS, BOWS AND BRUISES'
Of major interest is this DVD of Karol Szymanowski's King Roger, a rare opportunity to see this opera about the conflict between Christianity and pagan rituals. Originally the composer called this work "A Sicillan Drama," then "The Shepherd." Each of the three acts was to take place in a different location. In this production by David Pountney from the Bregenz Festival July 2009, all of the action takes place on a simple platform with white stairs. All effects are achieved through lighting and shadows.The exotic music suggests Richard Strauss and Scriabin with a touch of Ravel. The mystic plot is, to put it mildly, confusing. The King is expected to condemn a mysterious heretic shepherd who supposedly has seen God. The shepherd eventually leaves with Roxana, the King's wife, and they enter a world of orgiastic celebration. At the opera's conclusion the King refuses to be led into another world. This performance is excellent in every, and well photographed. Audio is satisfactory although somewhat cavernous. While it might not be an undiscovered masterpiece, King Roger has much to offer, and this DVD makes a strong case for it. You also might investigate Sir Simon Rattle's EMI Birmingham recording made in 1998.
No question whatever that Yuri Temirkanov (b. 1938) is one of the most respected conductors of the day. Since 1988 he has been chief conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and frequently conducts other major orchestras of the world. This DVD is a live performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, from the Verbier Festival in Switzerland July 23, 2009. It's a dynamic reading as one would suspect. The young orchestra is excellent, although not quite at the level of the astounding Gustavo Dudamel/Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra at the BBC Proms (which hopefully soon will appear on DVD). The young players at the Festival respond vigorously to Temirkanov's direction, but it is rather odd to watch him conduct: most of the time his eyes are buried in the score and there is limited eye contact, so important for a conductor/orchestra relationship. But the results speak for themselves.What happened to the rest of the concert? What was it, and why wasn't it included? Surely the program included at least one other work and there is plenty of room for it.
Batons, Bows and Bruises is a fascinating lengthy documentary on the history of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It includes a number of intriguing, if brief, excerpts from rehearsals and performances with some of the major conductors involved with the RPO since its inception when Sir Thomas Beecham founded it in 1946. The program is arranged by decade with running commentary by various people associated with the orchestra as musicians or administrators; even Charles Gerhardt comments briefly about an incident that occurred when the RPO was on tour—presenters wanted to record the performance but their request was refused. This was in the early '60's when Gerhardt and the Reader's Digest made a spectacular series of recordings with the RPO under leading conductors, many of which fortunately are still available. There is no mention of why Gerhardt was on tour with the RPO. At any rate, there is much of interest here, and a bonus CD contains many of the famous RPO recordings beginning with Beecham and ending with Daniele Gatti, their current music director.
R.E.B. (December 2010)