NIELSEN: Symphony No. 1, Op. 7. Symphony No. 2, Op. 16 "The Four Temperaments." Symphony No. 3, Op. 27. "Sinfonia espansiva." Symphony No. 4, Op. 29 "The Inextinguishable." Symphony No. 5, Op. 50. Symphony No. 6 "Sinfonia semplice."
Danish National Symphony Orch/Michael Schonwandt, cond."
DA CAPO DVD VIDEO 2.110403-05 (3 disks) (also contains The Light and the Darkness On Carl Nielsen's Life and Music, a film by Karl Aage Rasmussen. TT: 227 min. (symphonies) 59 min. (documentary)

JEWELS - George Balanchine's Ballet
National Paris Opera Ballet Company/Paul Connelly, cond.
OPUS ARTS DVD VIDEO OA 0951 TT: 152 min. (also contains George Balanchine Forever, a film by Reiner E. Moritz)

MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 1 in B flat, K. 207. Violin Concerto No. 2 in D, K. 211. Violin Concerto No. 3 in G, K. 216. Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218. Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, K. 219. Sinfonia concertante in E flat, K. 364.
Gidon Kremer, violinist; Kim Kashkashian, violist; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond.

GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier.
José Cura (Chénier); Maria Guleghina (Maddalena); Carlo Guelfi (Gérard); Cinzia De Mola (Contessa); Giacinta Nicotra (Bersi); Annie Vavrille (Madelon); Carlo Cigni (Roucher); Chorus and Orch. of Teatro Communale di Bologna/Carlo Rizzi, cond.

Michael Schonwandt and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra recorded all six of Carl Nielsen's symphonies in 1999/2000 for DeCapo, universally considered among the finest performances ever recorded. Now it's a pleasure to welcome the same repertory filmed in November 2000 in the Danish Radio Concert Hall. These are the same authoritative performances, now recorded before an audience—but via DVD, we are able to hear them in splendid 5.1 surround sound. And there is a true bonus: a third disk called The Light and The Darkness, a highly informative documentary on Nielsen's life and music, produced by Karl Aage Rasmussen. Even if you already have the regular CD issue of the symphonies, this new set is worth owning for the surround sound. It's intriguing that this set of three DVD disks has a list price considerably lower than the regular CD set (which does not include the documentary).

George Balanchine (Jan. 22, 1904-April 30, 1983) was perhaps the most famous choreographer of the 20th century, and one of the many ballets he created for the New York City Ballet can now be seen in a brilliant performance recorded in Paris October/November 2005 which has been authorized and supervised by the George Balanchine Trust. Jewels had its premiere April 13, 1967 and was an instant sensation. There are three sections: Emeralds, to music of Fauré (Pelléas et Mélisande/Shylock), Rubies, to Stravinsky's Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, and Diamonds, to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3. Balanchine was married four times, three times to ballerinas. He choreographed Rubies as a showpiece for Suzanne Farrell, leading ballerina with the New York City Ballet, with whom he had a one-sided torrid affair. Even after his unsuccessful pursuit of Farrell, Balanchine continued to create new ballets for her. This new production of Jewels is stunning. The stark stage only emphasizes the brilliance of Christian Lacroix's costumes; naturally these were green, red and white in the three parts of the ballet. The performance is by dancers from the Paris Ballet, and all are magnificent. Video and audio quality are superb. As a bonus, we have George Belanchine Forever, a documentary film by Reiner E. Moritz with many interviews with those involved in this new production. This is a spectacular ballet DVD, highly recommended!

Gidon Kremer recorded these Mozart works with Harnoncourt and the Vienna Philharmonic (selected members thereof) in 1987 for DG. These video performances had been recorded earlier in sessions in October 1983, 1984, and 1987 (K. 218/219). As one would expect, these are lean-textured performances of immaculate technical expertise, with Kremer joining the orchestra in the openings of the concertos. The artificially-induced 5.1 surround sound is just fine. Video is rather odd in the first concerto; the camera cuts off the bottom of the orchestra but includes chandeliers and organ. There are many close-ups of both soloist and conductor which I would prefer not to view as often as they are here. The "bonus" is an advertisement for other Unitel DVD releases. This Mozart set occupies two DVDs and is rather pricey; you can acquire the Kremer-Harnoncourt-VPO DG CD recording of the same music for less than half the cost.

There's no lack of DVD video performances of Andrea Chénier Already available are versions featuring Franco Corelli and Celestina Casapietra from a RAI 1973 telecast, Mario Del Monaco and Antionetta Stella from a 1955 RAI telecast, José Carreras and Eva Marton from La Scala, and two productions from Vienna with Plácido Domingo partnered by Anna Tomawa-Sintow and Gabriella Benacková. This version recorded in January 2006 at Teatro Comunale di Bologna has sonic and visual advantages but little else. Although many consider José Cura to be a major figure on today's operatic scene, in this performance his voice has an raw edge and uneven production, exciting in its own way, but he cannot match the passion and security of Del Monaco, Domingo and Corelli in this role. Maria Guleghina is a beautiful, dramatic Maddalena, and the remainder of the cast is excellent. Giancarlo del Monaco's sets and costumes are appropriate for the period except that in the final scene when Chénier and Maddalena are to go to the guillotine we instead see them climbing partway up a huge metal ladder/net that covers most of the stage—rather odd but not as inappropriate as many recent directorial abominations on the opera stage. For Chénier at its most impressive, try one of the historic performances mentioned above.


R.E.B. (August 2006)