WEBER: Oberon Overture. TCHAIKOVSKY: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32. Dennis Marks Documentary.
Leningrad Philharmonic Orch/Yevgeny Mravinsky, cond.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36.
Leningrad Philharmonic Orch/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD DVB5996909 TT: 130:44

CLAUDIO ABBADO - A Portrait film by Paul Smaczny
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101 049 TT: 60 min

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral."
Agnes Giebel, soprano; Marga Höffgen, contralto; Ernst Haefliger, tenor; Gustav Niedlinger, bass; New Philharmonia Chorus and Orch/Otto Klemperer, cond.
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92.
French National Radio Orch/Ernest Ansermet, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD DVB59990349 TT: 116:38

BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77. TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35. LOCATELLI-ROZHDESTVENSKY: Caprice in D, Op. 3 No. 23(with Moscow Philharmonic Orch/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, cond). SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47. BEETHOVEN: Romance No. 1 in G, Op. 40. (with Moscow Radio Symphony Orch/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, cond.). KREISLER: Liebesleid. LALO: Intermezzo from Symphonie espagnole (with pianist Vladimir Yampolsky).
EMI CLASSICS DVD DVB5996869 TT: 130:40

Here are four intriguing—if frustrating—DVD videos. The EMI tribute to famed Russian conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky features an extended documentary by Dennis Marks including many interviews with his widow Aleksandra, Mariss Jansons, and various members of the Leningrad Philharmonic, which he led for OVER FOUR DECADES? Mravinsky was a master at balancing the delicate political situation and developing the orchestra. He was highly demanding of the players, and played an major part in 20th century Russian music, conducted premieres of many major works, and it's fascinating to watch him in concert videos leading all-too-short excerpts from Tchaikovsky's last three symphonies, several Shostakovich symphonies including No. 5 (two different performances) which he premiered. The problem is that all of these excerpts are too brief. We do have a complete 1978 performance of Oberon Overture, played in an empty hall, and Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini before an audience, the latter in dreadful sound considering that it was filmed in 1983. Both of these give us the opportunity to see the venerable conductor in performance; it is said that his beat was so minimal (as was Fritz Reiner's), that the audience seldom saw his arms. It's unfortunate more Mravinsky performances aren't included on this DVD; the "bonus" is a live rather uneven playing of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 from 1971 recorded in Royal Albert Hall with the Leningrad PO directed by Gennady Rozhdestvensky—music-making at a somewhat lower level.

Claudio Abbado's DVD is an affectionate film portrait of the conductor by Paul Smaczny, showing him to be a gentle, secure, committed conductor who cares as much about the musicians he conducts as he does the music they play. We watch Abbado in rehearsal and performance of music of Rossini, Schubert and Schoenberg with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 and Strauss' Elektra with the Berlin Philharmonic, and music of Beethoven (with pianist Maria Joao Pires) and Bruckner with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, all dating from 1995. No reference is made to Abbado's recent illness (an operation for stomach cancer); apparently he has recovered completely as evidenced by some superb recent recordings. It's fascinating to know when he was at the beginning of his career and wanted to attend rehearsals of the Vienna Phlharmonic and not permitted to do so (no one was) he joined the Musikverein Chorus and thus got to see Herbert von Karajan, Josef Krips and Bruno Walter working with the orchestra. This is a fine DVD but why is it so brief? Just one hour for the documentary—producers easily could (and should) have included more live performances with the distinguished conductor.

Otto Klemperer's Beethoven Ninth from Royal Festival Hall Nov. 8, 1964 is an important historic document. The venerable conductor was 79 at the time; he would live another nine years. He made his famous EMI recording in 1957 (with Aase Nordmo Lövberg, Christa Ludwig, Waldemar Kmentt and Hans Hotter); there is a live BBC recording of this music, from Royal Festival Hall November 15, 1957, with different soloists except for Ludwig (Agnes Giebel, Richard Lewis and Walter Berry) but the same orchestra and chorus, available on Testament (1177). This DVD of the Ninth (a black/white TV production) is of great interest which cannot be said of the dubious "bonus," Ernest Ansermet conducting the French National Radio Orchestra in Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 filmed in Paris Nov. 25, 1967 (also black/white). Ansermet ( Nov. 11, 1883 - Feb. 20, 1969) had considerable clout with Decca during mid-20th century. He had close associations with many major composers including Stravinsky, Satie, Honegger and Martin, whose works he recorded often. Reportedly the Swiss conductor told Decca if they wanted his Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and music of other composers in which he specialized, they would have to let him record Beethoven and Bach—which they did, resulting in unmemorable sets of Bach suites and Beethoven symphonies. It's unfortunate EMI Classics didn't include another Klemperer video.

Legendary violinist David Oistrakh (Sept. 30, 1908-Oct. 24, 1974) can be seen performing violin concertos of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, as well as the short works of Kreisler and Lalo, on EMI's well-filled (130:40) DVD, masterful performances of three works long associated with him which he recorded frequently in the studio. After the Tchaikovsky, as an encore we have Rozhdestvensky's rather prosaic orchestration of Locatellli's Caprice in D which adds little to the Oistrakh discography other than a nod acknowledging his allegiance to the conductor. Particularly valuable are the Kreisler and Lalo works recorded in Russia, the first in 1937, the second in 1953, showing the younger Oistrakh. The black and white photography is adequate as is the sound, and as a bonus we have a rehearsal with pianist Frida Bauer of Beethoven's Kreutzer sonata.

R.E.B. (March 2005)