CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. Mazurka
in A minor, Op. 17 No. 4. (Nikolai Demidenko). Piano Concerto No. 2
in F minor, Op. 21. Etude in C minor, Op. 10 No. 12. Waltz in E minor,
Op. Posth. (Evgeny Kissin).
TCHAIKOVSKY: Cherevichki (The Tsarina's Slippers).
MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana
What a pleasure it is to view two of the finest pianists of our time in a special concert commemorating Chopin's 200th birthday recorded in Warsaw February 27, 2010. Both of Chopin's concertos have figured prominently in the careers of Nikolai Demidenko and Yevgeny Kissin. Demidenko recorded both, a disk currently available on the Helios label, and Evgeny Kissin astounded the musical world in 1984 when he was only 12 when he performed both concertos in a Moscow concert, the official beginning of an astounding career. Both pianists here give exquisite performances at this commemorative concert and the Polish orchestra under Antoni Wit offers perfect accompaniments. Demidenko plays one encore, a delicate mazurka, while Kissin lets the sparks fly with the Revolutionary Etude and E-minor waltz. Those who love the piano must have this DVD. Audio and video are superb with unobtrusive camera work. This is an outstanding release.
Nutcracker isn't Tchaikovsky's only major composition that takes place Christmas Eve. Cherevichki (also known as The Little Shoes, The Tsarina's Slippers, or Les caprices d'Oxana), the eighth of his ten operas, was suggested by Nikolay Gogol's short story Christmas Eve. It is a fantastic comic opera combining music and dance. Although Tchaikovsky felt this was one of his finest operas, the music is generally unmemorable. The plot involves young lovers Oxana and Vakula who have to deal with a witch and the devil, and the scenario includes an enchanted lake and a festive ballroom extravaganza. . After the 1887 premiere (which Tchaikovsky conducted), Cherevichki fell into oblivion; even in Russia it was seldom performed. This spectacular DVD is a big-scale production from the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in November 2009. Tatiana Noginova's costumes are elaborately colorful, and Mikhail Mokrov's sets have the fantasy of a fairy tale. All of the singers and dancers are superb, with a special nod to the four Cossack dancers in Act III. Video is stunning—this is a feast for the eyes, and for the ears as well as the audio is as natural as it could be. This is a welcome quality release of an unjustly neglected opera seldom experienced live.
Super video and audio also are experienced on this latest coupling of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci taped last season in the Zurich Opera House. Unfortunately, the performances are unexceptional. Director Grischa Asagaroff has moved both operas up a century, which really is of little consequence, but his decision to have the duel between Alfio and Turiddu on stage is ill-advised, and he decided Canio would be drunk during the entire performance. He also elected, for whatever reason, to have the final line of Pagliacci, "la commedia e finita," spoken almost inaudibly by Canio (instead of Tonio) . Often singing in both operas is slightly off-pitch, and sometimes is mediocre—listen to Carlo Guelfi's opening to Pagliacci. Paoletta Marrocu's Santuzza and Fiorenza Cedolins' Nedda are better visually than vocally. Cura's voice is uneven although he has some exciting moments in the final scene of Pagliacci. A rising star in the operatic world, baritone Gabriel Bermúdez, sings Silvio most impressively. A mixed bag here, but the video and audio are terrific.
R.E.B. (December 2010)