GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier
Héctor Sandoval (Anmdrea Chénier); Norma Fantini (Maddalena di Coigny); Scott Hendricks (Carlo Gérard); Tania Kross (Bersi);' Prague Philharmonic Choir; Bregenz Festival Chorus; Vienna Symphony Orch/Ulf Schirmer, cond.
C MAJOR DVD 708004 TT: 130 min.
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RACHMANINOFF: The Bells, Op. 35. PROKOFIEV: Lt. Kijé Suite, Op. 60. BERNSTEIN: Candide Overture
Sheila Armstrong, soprano; Robert Tear, tenor; Johnb Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone; London Symphony Chorus (Rachmaninoff); London Symphon Orch/André Previn, cond.
ICA CLASSICS DVD ICAD 5038 TT: 62:05
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SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120. MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde.
Carolyn Watkinson, mezzo-soprano; Johnb Mitchinson, tenor; BBC Philharmonic Orch/Kurt Sanderling, cond.
ICA CLASSICS DVD ICAD 5042 TT: 1 hr. 36 min.
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Since its 1896 premiere at La Scala, Giordano's verismo opera Andrea Chénier has been a favorite with audiences. The story concerns the ill-fated French poet Chénier who is executed during the French revolution. His lover, Maddalena, chooses to die with him in the dramatic final scene, a tour de force for tenor and soprano. This site has mentioned two exciting historic performances, one with Franco Corelli (REVIEW), the other with Mario del Monaco (REVIEW), as well as a less satisfying more recent version with José Cura (REVIEW). This new video taped July 2011 at the Bregenz Festival is disappointing. OK, it is difficult to stage any opera on the huge stage area surrounded by water. David Fielding's sets are mammoth with a huge sculpture depicting Marat, a leader of the Revolution, lying dead in his bath. Director Keith Warner had a difficult task directing; at least on the video we can see the singers—they must have been lilliputian for the audience. Some past Bregenz productions have been mentioned on this site: Aida (REVIEW), Il trovatore (REVIEW), and Tosca (REVIEW). Of these, Tosca is the only one I might return to. This Chénier will never see my monitor screen again. Franco Corelli/Celestina Casapietra and Mario del Monaco/Renata Tebaldi brought intense drama and spectacular singing in their performances, barely suggested by what we see in this Austria production. Mexican tenor Héctor Sandoval, yet to appear in major opera houses, has a powerful but uncontrolled voice. Norma Fantini is not the grand diva required for the role of Maddalena. The historic performances mentioned above don't have the video brilliance or audio quality of the new set, but surely are the ones to own.

The three Previn performances were filmed in Royal Albert Hall July 26,1973 (Rachmaninoff), Fairfield Hall in Croydon April 24, 1977, and Royal Festival Hall November 25, 1971. It is fascinating to see a very youthful looking Previn relatively early in his career. He has been a major figure on the concert scene for more than six decades. His career began in 1948 composing and arranging music for Hollywood. Later he became music director of the Houston Symphony (1967-69), the London Symphony (1968-1979), the Pittsburgh Symphony (1976-1984), and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1985-1989). He wrote music for countless films, and two operas, A Streetcar Names Desire (1997), and Brief Encounter (2009). His five wives included Mia Farrow and Anne-Sophie Mutter, and he has 9 children either biological or adopted. A busy man, indeed! Previn specialized in Russian music and recorded all of Rachmaninoff's concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody with Vladimir Ashkenazy, as well as Symphony No. 2, Symphonic Dances, The Bells, and the two suites for two pianos (with Ashkenazy). Previn made his EMI recording of The Bells in 1975 with the same soloists and orchestra, two years after this video, and it has been in the catalog ever since. The Prokofiev suite also receives a fine performance, as does Bernstein's overture. Video is adequate for the time, audio satisfactory "ambient remastering." The ICA label has released many telecasts, mostly from the BBC, and the price is reasonable. For a list of them, visit ARKIVMUSIC

We have a rare opportunity to view the artistry of conductor Kurt Sanderling on another ICA issue from the BBC archives, this concert recorded in Royal Albert Hall July 29, 1988. Born in Prussia in 1912, Sanderling was a respected figure in the musical world, gentle in demeanor, but always in control. From 1942 to 1960 he was conductor, along with Yevgany Mravinsky, of the Leningrad Philharmonic; one of the first LPs I ever bought was his 1956 recording of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2. Sanderling championed music of Shostakovich and recorded a number of the symphonies.He also was known for his Mahler, and this live performance of Das Lied von der Erde is impressive. He has two superlative soloists, tenor John Mitchinson whose voice is ideal for the tessitura of his three songs, and Carolyn Watkinson who, although mostly known for her performances of baroque music, shows herself to be a most sensitive interpreter of Mahler. This performance of Das Lied is among the best. As with the Previn DVD, video is adequate, with "ambient remastering" that conveys the performance.

R.E.B. (December 2011)

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