SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D 759 "Unfinished." Symphony No. 9 in C, D 944 "The Great."
NDR Symphony Orch/Günter Wand, cond.

BERG: Suite from Lulu. DEBUSSY: Three Ballades de Françios Villon. STRAVINSKY: The Firebird.
Christine Schäfer, soprano; Chicago Symphony Orch/Pierre Boulez, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2050146 TT: 91 min

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral."
June Anderson, soprano; Sarah Walker, mezzo-soprano; Klaus König, tenor; Jan0-Hendrik Rootering, bass; Choruses of Bavarian and Berlin Radio; Bavarian Radio Orch; Dresden State Orch; Kirov Theatre Orch; London Symphony Orch; New York Philharmonic Orch; Orchestre de Paris/Leonard Bernstein, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2072038 TT: 94 min.

'PIQUE DAME' - Roland Petit's ballet based on Tchaikovsky
Nikolay Tsiskaridze (Hermann); Ilze Liepa (The Countess);Svetlana Lunkina (Lisa); Georgiy Geraslom (Chekaliinsky).
'PASSACAGLIA'- Roland Petit's ballet based on Webern's music
Svetlana Lunkina; Yan Godovsky; Soloists, dancers and orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre/Vladimir Andropov, cond.
BEL AIR CLASSICS DVD VIDEO BAC 212 TT: 133 min. incl. features

All those who love orchestral music should investigate TDK's series of DVDs with the late Günter Wand conducting the NDR Symphony Orchestra. This latest release, recorded live at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in 1995, offers sublime performances of Schubert's Eighth and Ninth symphonies. What a pleasure it is to watch a master conductor at work! The orchestra is superb, the stereo sound just fine (no attempt was made to simulate surround sound).

Another master conductor can be observed on Euroarts DVD with Pierre Boulez conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recorded live in the Philharmonie in Cologne April 25-26, 2000 during MusikTriennale Köln. Boulez is in total command when conducting, expressionless and assured. He leads superlative performances of a brief suite from Berg's Lulu and Debussy songs magnificently sung by soprano Christine Schäfer who has no difficulties with the stratospheric demands of Lulu. The virtuoso playing of the CSO in the Stravinsky is quite remarkable throughout, particularly in Firebird, and camera work lets us observe it close-up—and it is unfortunate they are so close up for Schäfer whose face often fills almost the entire screen. Do producers really think viewers wish to see this microscopic detail? Excellent 5.1 surround sound although the performers are definitely in front.

December 25, 1989 Leonard Bernstein conducted a very special concert to commemorate the fall of the Berlin wall, "The Celebration Concert from Berlin," televised live throughout the world. Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 was featured with text changed so that it was an "Ode to Freedom" rather than an "Ode to Joy." The concert was given in the Schauspielhaus in Berlin, a large beautiful hall, and thousands who could not get inside the concert hall watched and heard the performance outside. Many orchestral players were involved, although not all at the same time. While the orchestra (basically the Bavarian Radio Orchestra) is large, it contains some players from the Dresden State Orchestra, Kirov Theatre Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Orchestre de Paris. I suspect only a few from each orchestra participated; during the brief break between the second and third movements of the symphony a number of players leave to be replaced by others. Primary chorus was from the Bavarian Radio along with members of the Berlin Radio Chorus and, something new (to me) in a performance of the mighty Ninth, a large chorus of children from the Dresden Philharmonie. Humphrey Burton directed the event, camera work is appropriate although it focuses too much on the conductor. Bernstein is at his most indulgent in this generally lethargic performance, and his little shimmy dance during the second movement seems highly inappropriate. Bernstein looks stressed and grotesque; doubtless he was not well at the time—he died nine months later (October 14, 1990).The sound is identified as DTS 5.1 but doesn't sound like it; sonically this is not a showpiece. Nor is it a showpiece of Beethoven's masterpiece in spite of the tremendous long-lasting ovation at the conclusion. As a memento of an historic event, this is major indeed. As a performance of Beethoven's Ninth it leaves much to be desired.

Roland Petit (b. 1924), France's most famous choreographer, has 160 ballets to his credit. Most of his work was in Paris, but he was a favorite elsewhere as well, and often worked with the Bolshoi Ballet. An example is this DVD which contains Passacaille to music of Webern, and Píque Dame to music of Tchaikovsky. Twenty-five years ago Mikhail Baryshnikov asked Petit for a ballet on the subject of The Queen of Spades. It was a moderate success—but Petit felt more could be done with the subject and welcomed the invitation of the Bolshoi two decades later for a new version. This time using Petit chose Tchaikovsky's Pathétique symphony, instead of his opera The Queen of Spades. This might seem like an odd choice, but it works. Petit was inspired by Leonard Bernstein's recording of the Symphony No. 6, the longest and most searching ever made, and in this performance conductor Vladimir Andropov attempts to replicate Bernstein's approach to the score. The order of the music is changed. After the opening of the first movement we have the second, and after this, in the scene where Hermann encounters The Countess, we have the dynamic development and conclusion of the first movement. The fourth movement follows, and the ballet ends with the vigorous march representing the gaming scene and Hermann's death. The performance is quite extraordinary, with Nikolay Tsiskaridze as Hermann and Ilze Liepa a demonic Countess. The DVD also contains the abstract Passacaille, one of the few plot-less ballets choreographed by Petit. Photography is excellent, audio acceptable although hardly Dolby Digital 5.l surround. A lengthy (43 min) set of interviews with Petit and the two lead dancers is an added plus.

R.E.B. (July 2006)