HILARY HAHN - A Portrait
DGG DVD VIDEO 00400734192 TT: 58 min (documentary) 49 min. (performances)

NATALIE DESSAY - Great Moments on Stage

Documentaries: The Plow that Broke the Plains. The River. Music by Virgil Thomson.
NAXOS DVD VIDEO 2.110521 TT: 112 min.

Here are three quality DVDs. The Hahn film was made between December 2003 and June 2004. There are excerpts from various rehearsals and concerts in Berlin, Philadelphia, Dresden, London and Hong Hong. Also Hahn gives us a brief tour of the Curtis Institute of Music where she studied. The DVD also includes Mozart's Sonata, K. 301 (with pianist Natalie Zhu), and an exquisite performance of Korngold's Violin Concerto with Kent Nagano conducting the Berlin Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester. Excellent sound and video throughout.

Natalie Dessay's DVD is advertised as "greatest moments on stage" and indeed it is that. Recorded during performances in Vienna, Lyon, Provence, Paris, Barcelona, Orange, Salzburg and Glyndebourne, from 1993 to 2003, we see the remarkable coloratura in excerpts from The Tales of Hoffman, Lucia di Lammermoor, The Magic Flute, Hamlet, The Child and the Sorcerers, Orpheus in the Underworld, and Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. There are two performances of Zerbinetta's big aria from Ariadne. The first of these is from a 2001 Salzburg modern production in which Zerbinetta is a disillusioned, tragic young woman. The second is the standard production of the opera, from the Paris National Opera in 2003. Both are stunning vocally. We also have two performances of Olympia's Doll Song, a role perfectly suited to this superb soprano. The mad scene from Thomas' Hamlet is from the 2003 Liceu production (see REVIEW). The video begins with Voices of Spring recorded in 1993 at the Vienna State Opera. Each performance is prefaced by Dessay's brief and often amusing commentary on music and circumstances of each performance. All of these are from telecasts, video quality is variable but always sufficient to convey the classic performances.

A major release offers the original films of Pare Lorentz's films The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936) and The River (1937). What is seen here is, more or less, what was seen when these documentaries originally were shown, but what is heard is not. In three instances music has been restored that was not used on original soundtracks. The films have been carefully restored, and as there was no dialogue in either film, the soundtrack was replaced with newly-recorded narration and music. Virgil Thomson's pioneering scores are played by the Post-Classical Ensemble directed by Angel Gil-Ordónez, with narration by Floyd King. Special features include George Stony, legendary documentary film-maker, and composer Charles Fussell, who was closely associated with Virgil Thomson, discussing various aspects of the film and music. In a 7-minute audio only feature, very poorly recorded, Thomson talks about his music for the films. An important, quality release—hats off, once again, to Naxos!

R.E.B. (March 2007)