STRAUSS: An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64
Berlin Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester/Kent Nagano, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIC DVD VIDEO 101 437 TT: 56 min. + 52 min. documentary

DVORAK: Stabat Mater
Yvonne Kenny, soprano; Eva Randova, mezzo-soprano; Weislav Ochman, tenor; Jan Galla, bass; Prague Philharmonic Chorus; Czech Philharmonic Orch/Vaclav Neumann, cond.

WAGNER: Götterdämmerung
Siegfried Schmidt (Siegfried); Deborah Polaski (Brünnhilde); Hanna Schwarz (Waltraute); Falk Struckmann (Gunther); Eric Halfvarson (Hagen); Ekkehard Wlaschina (Alberich); Anne Schwanewilms (Gutrune); Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orch/James Levine, cond.
DGG DVD VIDEO 04400734340 (2 disks) TT: 275 min.

Arthaus Musik's Classical Masterpieces offers this issue of Richard Strauss's massive Alpine Symphony in a magnificent performance by the Berlin German Symphony Orchestra directed by Kent Nagano, along with an informative documentary on the work. The documentary is fine indeed, and the performance is one of the best I've ever heard of this sprawling work—and beautifully recorded in rich surround sound—this is a true sonic spectacular. Berlin's Philharmonic Hall has a huge organ and its sound has been captured with uncommon solidity. Jörg Jeshel was director of photography and presumably is responsible for the abominable video concept. Video quality is outstandingly clear, and obviously producers knew the score very well; there are countless closeups of solos (some lasting only a fraction of a second), but the artsy approach is irritating and detrimental to the performance. A marble bust of Strauss on a pedastel can be seen amongst the orchestra. Often one sees only the tip of a string bow moving up and down, and there are many hazy shots of the auditorium's ceiling. Overhead views of the orchestra and groups of players swirl about, sometimes the camera moves in circles, and towards the end the entire orchestra is upside down! Distracting to say the least! The performance deserves better.

Vaclav Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic are magnificent in this performance of Dvorak's Stabat Mater recorded live in the Hradcany in Prague in 1989. Stabat Mater, premiered in Prague December 23, 1880, reflects the composer's response to the death of his three children in their infancy. Prior to this video performance, the Czech Philharmonic had recorded this choral masterpiece three times, in 1952 with Vaclav Talich conducting, in 1962 with Vaclav Smetacek, and in 1982 with Wolfgang Sawallisch on the podium. On this new issue the stereo sound is fine, camera work what it should be. Recommended!

This Götterdämmerung was recorded in Bayreuth in June 1997, seven years after James Levine conducted the complete Ring at the Met which is available on DGG video. The latter, with the production team of Otto Schenk and Gunther Schneider-Siemssen, was highly praised for its effective use of the Met's elaborate staging possibilities, effective costumes and sets, and overall quality of singing (this entire Ring is available in a modestly-priced DGG 7 DVD set). The 1997 Bayreuth version was staged by Alfred Kirchner with sets and costume design by "Rosalie," wife of Wolfgang Wagner, whose actual name was Gudrun Müller. Their purpose was "to free Wagner's heavyweight work from all its ideological and philosophical ballast." They did this by using stark sets, poles, rods, and light beams (Valhalla consists of flourescent tubes piled up like sticks on a bonfire). The costumes are abstract and often it appears leading characters are wearing broad pantaloon-bloomers. Singing generally is fine, although Deborah Polaski's Brünnhilde surely doesn't challenge the great interpreters of the role. Of course there are some intriguing interludes, but the grandeur of Wagner is missing. The video quality and sound are excellent, but this is a Götterdämmerung I won't watch again.

R.E.B. (November 2007)