EUROARTS DVD VIDEO2054938 TT: 71 min + 53 min (interview)

BRITTEN: A Midsummer Night's Dream
David Daniels (Oberon); Ofelia Sala (Tytania); Gordon Gietz (Lysander); Deanne Meek (Hermia); William Dazeley (Demetrius); Brigitte Hahn (Helena); Peter Rose (Bottom); Christoopher Gillett (Flute); Emil Wolk (Puck); Liceu Grand Theatre Orch/Harry Bicket, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 339202 (2 disks) TT: 157 min

LISZT: Années de Pèlerinage: First Year: Switzerland. Second Year: Italy
Alfred Brendel, pianist

Euroarts' DVD of ballerina Maya Plisetskaya is superb. Included is a conversion with her (and her husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin) recorded in Munich in 2004 when she was 80(!). Perhaps the major Russian ballerina of the last half of the 20th century, she appeared all over the world to greatest acclaim. Listening to this charming interview is like getting a glimpse of Russian music history. Thoughtfully tracked and ID'd for convenience (there are 19), one can find specific mention of the origin of the famous Carmen Ballet and how they first asked Dimitri (Shostakovich), then Aram (Khachaturian), to write the score, and ended up with Rodion (Shchedrin) composing it. Also we hear the amusing story of Béjart's choreography of Boléro for her. The "In Performance" part of the DVD offers12 highlights from many of her greatest roles ending with the stunning Boléro recorded in Brussels in 1977; all other performances were recorded at the Bolshoi. Picture quality varies, but it always adequate to convey the magnificent dancing; sound also is dated, but it doesn't matter one bit. Get this DVD!

Benjamin Britten's version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, adapted by him and Peter Pears from Shakespeare's comedy, was premiered in 1960 at the Aldeburgh Festival, and has been a favorite with many audiences ever since. Imaginatively and delicately scored, it is Britten in a lighter mood well capturing the fantasy of Shakespeare's masterpiece. This performance, recorded in the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona in April 2005, is a production originally presented by Le Festival d'Aix en Provence by the Lyon National Opéra. Robert Carsen is the stage director with colorful if rather stark sets and costumes by Michael Levine, lighting by Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet. The cast is excellent, particularly countertenor David Daniels as Oberon and Ofelia Sala as Tytania. Orchestral playing and the Escolania de Montserrat directed by Joachim Piqué are superb, and conductor Harry Bicket captures all of the magic and beauty of the score. Surround sound is first-rate, video pristine and imaginative. If you enjoy Britten's opera, investigate this—although it doesn't have the magic of the composer's own 1966 audio recording.

A major issue is Alfred Brendel's video of the first two years (suites) of Franz Liszt's Annés de Pèlerinage, the second of which ends with the famous Dante Sonata, recorded in the Great Hall of Middle Temple, London, March 29-31, 1986, tastefully directed by Humphrey Burton. Brendel, who was 75 last year, is a master of this repertory, and here he comments on each piece before he plays it. He is a commanding presence at the keyboard, and according to liner notes, after seeing himself on video he decided he was making some facial expressions and movements that contradicted what he intended to represent in his playing. He worked on this aspect of his performance and presumably what we view here is his altered style at the keyboard. One also can notice small bandages on his fingertips; it's explained that this is not because of an injury, but to protect "vulnerable fingernails." Excellent sound, although the 5.1 has been artificially produced. The set also includes samples of some other DGG videos. Subtitles are in German, French, Spanish and Chinese.

R.E.B. (April 2006)