SOPHIA - BIOGRAPHY OF A VIOLIN CONCERTO
Russian composer Sophia Gubaidulina (b. 1931) is a remarkable, imaginative musician. Even in her younger years she was highly criticized for huger unusual ideas on instrumentation, although Shostakovich encouraged her. Recently I heard an air check of a remarkable work she composed in 2002 called The Rider of the White Horse scored for large orchestra and organ, a performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by David Robertson. It is amazing that this diminutive lovely lady could write music of such terrifying grandeur! Unfortunately there is no commercial recording of this stunning music; perhaps it will be included in a future RCO Live issue. In 1980 Gubaidulina wrote Offertorium, her first violin concerto, revising it in 1982 and 1986. Kremer's magnificent recording, with Charles Dutoit and the Boston Symphony, is still available on DGG. In 1992, distinguished Swiss conductor and advocate of contemporary music Paul Sacher commissioned Gubaidulina to write a violin concerto for Anne-Sophie Mutter, but she was so busy with other works the concerto could not be completed until 2007. As usual with this composer, scoring is unusual—a large orchestra with no violins but much percussion. The premiere was at the Lucerne Festival with Mutter and the Berlin Philharmonic directed by Sir Simon Rattle. This splendid documentary is about the writing of the concerto with extensive commentary by the composer and Mutter as well as excerpts from rehearsals. Gubaidulina is charming and unpretentious throughout, with a sense of humor as well, a delight to observer. We also have excerpts from the first violin concerto played by Kremer. This is a fascinating—but frustrating—DVD. Doubtless the performance exists on video, but we don't see it. Would it not be logical to include it? Still, there is much of value here, and it is a privilege to see this important composer at work.
This "Tribute to Maya Plisetskaya" is another documentary about the stunning Russian ballerina, joining the previously issued Euroarts DVD Diva of Dance (REVIEW). Her performance Rodion Shchedrin's adaptation for her of music from Carmen has been issued before (REVIEW), but now we have it again as a major part of the new set, along with Romantic Encounter (with music by Tchaikovsky) recorded in 1976, The Rose Adagio from the same composer's Sleeping Beauty recorded in 1977, La Rose Malade (to the Adagietto from Mahler's symphony No. 5) recorded in 1978, and Bach's Ave Maria recorded in 2000, We also have an 8-miniute conversation about Car men, and an 11-minute slide show called A Life in Pictures in which the images flit by too fast. This is a mixed bag, but admirers of Plisetskaya surely will wish to have it.
This production of Elektra by Herbert Wernicke was first given in October 1992 at the Bavarian State Opera; this revival was in January/February 2010. In many ways, it is striking concept of Strauss's masterpiece, with a bare set and a huge black moving panel that when moved lets us see brilliant expanses of blood red. Elektra wears a dark gown, Chrysothemis wears white, Klytämnestra wears red, Orest has a rumpled business suit and Aegisth wears a white dinner jacket. For the most part, singers face the audience and do not interact with each other. Throughout most of the opera, Elektra carries an axe, and it is a stunning moment when she swings it twice as her mother is killed. However, the mood is quickly broken when she has an electric lantern to light the way for Aegisth. At the end of the opera, Elektra doesn't do a dance of triumph as Strauss wanted; she turns her back to the audience and kills herself with the axe (!). There is no explanation for these arbitrary decisions by director Wernicke. Linda Watson was to make her debut as Elektra with the Vienna State Opera, but on eight week's notice appeared in this production when the scheduled soprano cancelled. Watson is outstanding vocally, as is Jane Henschel as the Queen. This cannot be said of German soprano Manuela Uhl, who doesn't have the power and stability the role of Chrysothemis demands. Uhl (b. 1971) has been a favorite in German opera houses in a wide variety of roles that range from Handel and Strauss to contemporary opera. She has been acclaimed by some for her Salome (you can see a snippet of it on YouTube). Albert Dohmen is a strong Orest, and the tattered voice of veteran René Kollo is appropriate for Aegisth. The orchestra under Christian Thielemann's powerful direction, is superb. Video and audio are first-rate. This is an intriguing view of Elektra, but I imagine most viewers would prefer a more standard production, particularly the magnificent one with Hildegard Behrens and Deborah Voight and James Levine on the podium taped at the Met in January 1994 just issued in the Met Celebratory Levine set.
R.E.B. (January 2010)