WAGNER: A Faust Overture. LISZT: A Faust Symphony
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E
This is a superb Turandot in many ways. Filmed in the vast Verona arena in August 2010, it is quite spectacular—as one would expect from director/producer/designer Franco Zeffirelli. Years ago, he designed an over-blown production of Turandot and La Bohème for the Met (both available on DVD), as well as Tosca. This one isn't quite as luxurious, and he has eliminated the huge crown that dominated his earlier effort. Emi Wada's costumes are vivid indeed, and the choreography keeps everyone moving in a realistic way. Maria Guleghina is famous for her assumption of the demanding title role, although she is far from the incredible performances by Birgit Nilsson, and, going back many years, British soprano Eva Turner. Guleghina already has two videos of this opera, one from the Met (REVIEW), the other from Valencia (REVIEW). In both of these she is impressive, once "In questa reggia" is past, and she is a superb actress. This video gives us the opportunity to view the talents of Salvatore Licitra (1968-2011). This gifted tenor has enjoyed a remarkable career during his short life; early in his career he was a favorite of Muti, and came to world-wide attention for his last-minute substitution in 2002 for Luciano Pavarotti in Tosca at the Met. Since that time. he has not quite lived up to his promise. He died in August 2011 from injuries when driving a motor scooter in Sicily. His performance as Calaf is very fine, enough for a repeat of "Nessun Dorma." but the magic spark just isn't there. Tamar Iveri is a gentle Liú; there is not a weak link in the entire cast, and Giuliano Carella's conducting could not be bettered. Filmed in HD and viewed on Blu Ray, this is stunning visually, and audio is of equal merit. Recommended!
Christian Thielemann's long association with the Dresden Staatskapelle has resulted in his being named principal conductor betinning next year. February 21/22, 2011 he led a special concert in Gottfried Semper's opera house marking the bicentenary of Franz Liszt's birth. The concert opened with Wagner's A Faust Overture, the first version of which received its premiere in Dresden in 1844, followed by Liszt's A Faust Symphony. Wagner and Liszt had discussed Goethe's Faust and Wagner originally planned to write a symphony on the subject but completed only the first movement. Liszt conducted the first performance outside Dresden in Weimar in 1852. Liszt then wrote his symphony on the subject, with the first movement representing Faust, the second movement Gretchen, and the third, Mephistopheles. The premiere was in 1854; three years later, Liszt added the final chorus, a setting of the mystic chorus from the end of Faust, with a tenor soloist. Thielemann obviously believes in both of these works, but the fact remains that the Wagner overture is not one of his major works and for good reason is seldom given in concerts. The Liszt symphony seems to be a favorite of many conductors including Barenboim, Beecham, Chailly, Muti, Solti, and Bernstein who recorded it twice—and Sinopoli who recorded it in Dresden in 1995. The symphony is overly long for its content, with many pages of empty bombast. The third section is a rather tame representation of the devil. Thielemann and his forces do what can be done for the music, but are not helped by tenor Endrik Wottrich's rather strained singing. Bernstein's 1976 Boston recording is available on DVD (REVIEW), as is Neemi Järvi's 2007 Hague Philharmonic performance (REVIEW), but neither of them can match the video and audio splendor of this new issue—should the music appeal to you.
Franz Welser-Möst is a staunch advocate of the music of Anton Bruckner and appears to be recording all of the symphonies. Already issued are Symphony No. 5 (REVIEW), Symphony No. 8 (REVIEW) and Symphony No. 9 (REVIEW). The conductor has an EMI CD of Symphony No. 7 recorded at the BBC Proms in August 1991, and now we have this magnificent performance of Symphony No. 7 recorded in Cleveland's Severance Hall in September 2008. The conductor's affection for this symphony is apparent in his 14-minute discussion of the work. The finale is thrilling indeed. What a pleasure it is to see and hear the famed Cleveland brass at their very best. I saw this on the Blu Ray version which offers stunning vidoagraphy William Cosel, vividly conveying the golden beauty of the venue which rightfully has been called one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. Robert Woods of Telarc fame was executive audio producer, a guarantee of sonic excellence. This is a magnificent issue. Don't miss it!
R.E.B. (December 2011)