RAVEL: Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2. MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL: Pictures at an Exhibition. TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23. PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Op. 28.
Emil Gilels, pianist; Orchestre National de la RTF/André Cluytens, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD 49201259 TT: 88 min.

BERLIOZ: Excerpts from La Damnation de Faust, Les Troyens and Les Nuits d'ete; lieder of Schumann, Schubert, Fauré, Roussel, Duparc;Poulenc, Ravel and Brahms
Régine Crespin, soprano; Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF/Jean-Claude Hartemann, cond./Janine Reiss, pianist. POULENC: Excerpts from Dialogues des Carmélites, La Voix humaine and Les Marmelles de Trésias/two songs from La Courte Paille
Denise Duval, soprano; Francis Poulenc, pianist
EMI CLASSICS DVD 4928479 TT: 68 min.

ADÈS: Asyla. MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp minor
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Sir Simon Rattle, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD 903269 TT: 125 min (DVD video) 69 min (DVD Audio)

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58
Artur Rubinstein, pianist; London Symphony Orch/Antal Dorati, cond.
MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 (first movement). DEBUSSY: La fille aux cheveux de lin. DINICU: Hora staccato.
Jascha Heifetz, violinist/Bell Telehone Hour Orch/Donald Vorhees, cond.
WALTON: Cello Concerto
Gregor Piatigorsky, cellist; BBC Symphony Orch/Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVD 4928419 94 min.


There's been much publicity about Sir Simon Rattle's new association as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. This DVD documents his first official concert in that position, concerts recorded August 7-10, 2002 in Philharmonie Hall, Berlin. First off, let me say it is visually superb—cameras are in the right place at the right time, color and focus are vividly clear. On the DVD Video disk for audio you have a choice of Linear PCM Stereo, dts 5.1 surround or Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. For some reason, notes refer to the surround sound as "5.1" in some places, "six-channel sound" in others—of course they are both the same. The two disks sell for the price of one, and as a "special feature" the Video disk also includes a conversation between Nicholas Kenyon and Simon Rattle. On the bonus DVD Audio disk you have only still photographs to accompany the performance, and your choice of 5.1 uncompressed MLP 5.1 surround sound or uncompressed PPCM stereo. The sound in both formats is very clear, and defined which permits virtually every orchestral detail to be heard; I prefer a bigger, more resonant sound.

The young British composer Thomas Adès was commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony to write Asyla, and the work was first performed with Rattle conducting in October 1997. It is described as a 22-minute four-movement "symphony" requiring a huge orchestra. "Aysla" is plural "asylum" and the music encompasses "refuge, sanctuary and madhouse." Most of it is soft with incredibly intricate writing for woodwinds and brass. Percussion includes a gong which, after being struck, is quickly lowered into a container of water (I wonder if the composer specified the temperature of the water?). Also at one point two tins of canned vegetables are "played" with mallets; I also noticed a table knife and fork on the percussionist's stand, but didn't notice them being "played." There's also a washboard occasionally scraped. The score calls for a regular piano and an upright; often during the performance the camera would linger on the upright piano player but I couldn't hear any of the notes played. Frankly, I don't think it makes any difference. The Berlin audience seemed to appreciate Asyla much more than I did and gave the composer quite an ovation. Rattle's Mahler 5 is of course beautifully played (with the solo horn standing in front of the orchestra during the third movement, and has been praised by some critics, not by others (see REVIEW). It's rather far down on my list of preferred Mahler Fifths; there are two other multi-channel recordings currently available. For surround sound I prefer the Telarc SACD with Benjamin Zander and the Philharmonia Orchestra; the other SACD is with the Netherlands Philharmonic conducted by Helmut Haenchen on Pentatone, cavernously recorded, bass-heavy and not as well played.

André Cluytens has made many superb recordings, particularly his complete Boris Godunov (see REVIEW). This DVD hardly presents him favorably. The Ravel and Mussorgsky were recorded during a concert at the RTF in Paris August 13, 1960. The French National Radio Orchestra isn't in good form, with tinny brass not helped by the shallow recording. The conductor's early recording of the Ravel with the same orchestra is available on Testament sounding quite different. Pictures is equally ineffective; the vibrato-laden brass does not impress. Cluytens is a very expressive conductor; he obviously did not get what he wanted from this orchestra. About a year earlier—June 19, 1959—the same orchestra and conductor performed Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1, televised during a concert in the Théatre des Champs-Élyseés in Paris. Gilels recorded this concerto five times commercially, three of which are currently available (Reiner/Maazel/Mehta). There is an impetuous quality about this live performance—along with some missed notes—and admirers of Gilels may wish to own it; they surely will wish to have it for his stunning performance of Prokofiev's Sonata No. 3, a studio recording from London February 19, 1959. All of these films are black-and-white; camera work is adequate, not always focused where the attention should be. Producers have provided separate tracks where appropriate (15 for Pictures), although only one for Daphnis.

The Heifetz/Rubinstein/Piatigorsky DVD isn't what I thought it was going to be; I had incorrectly assumed this was going to be performances by the three artists as a trio after getting together in 1949. The liaison didn't last long as two of the three (Heifetz and Rubinstein) disagreed on which name should be first in what a critic of the time called The Million Dollar Trio. Heifetz and Rubinstein became estranged although Piatigorsky remained friends with both. What we have are solo performances by all three beginning Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with Rubinstein and the London Philharmonic directed by Antal Dorati from a concert in Royal Festival Hall December 7, 1967. Rubinstein was 80 at the time; he died two years later. His artistry remained into his later years even if his fingers were not always reliable. Rubinstein also is featured in the "bonus" on this DVD, a performance of Chopin's Polonaise in A-Flat, Op. 53 recorded the next year, May 26, 1968, in Royal Festival Hall. Obviously this was an encore—an orchestra is on stage. Now 81, the grand profile and style of playing are still there in spite of a few missed notes—and we have a chance to see the famous Rubinstein "attack" on the keys (with remarkable accuracy!) from more than a foot above the keyboard. Heifetz displays his steely perfection in his performances all from a Bell Telephone Hour broadcast in 1949, his tone not benefiting from the close-miking. Unalloyed pleasure is to be had in the magisterial performance of Walton's Cello Concerto from a concert in Royal Albert Hall February 13, 1957 with Piatigorsky and the BBC Symphony Orchestra directed by Sir Malcolm Sargent. It's a breath-taking performance with astounding virtuosity in the second movement Allegro appassionato, and the soft ending of the concerto is pure magic

Admirers of soprano Régine Crespin will of course wish to own this DVD that includes music of Berlioz performed with the ORTF Orchestra during a concert in Paris in 1965 as well as lieder and songs of Brahms, Schumann, Faure, Roussel, Duparc, Ravel and Poulenc from two Paris concerts, January 11, 1964 and October 1, 1972. Of greater interest is the "bonus," which is a 17-minute program of arias and songs by Francis Poulenc sung by Denise Duval with the composer at the piano. Duval and Poulenc were very close. She created the role of Therese in Les Mamelles de Tirésias. He dedicated Dialogue of the Carmelites to her and she sang Blanche in 1957 in the first Paris performance, as well as the role of Elle in the 1959 Paris premiere of La Voix humaine which Poulenc had conceived for her. The three opera excerpts on this DVD were from a concert May 14,1959, the two songs from a concert February 26, 1961 two years before his death. This entire DVD is black/white and there are subtitles in English, French, German and Spanish. Picture quality is restricted; these really do look like early TV broadcasts.

R.E.B. (July 20030