RAUTAVAARA: Aleksis Kivi
Jorma Hynninen (Aleksis Kivi). Janne Reinikainen (August Ahiqvist). Riikka Rantanen (Charlotte). Paulina Linnosaari (Hilda). Ville Rusanen (Young Alesxis). Tobias Zilliacus (J. L. Runeberg). Finnish National Opera Orch/Mikko Franck, cond.
ONDINE A 75709 TT: 90 min.+ 23 min. bonus

FALLA: La Vida Breve
Cristina Gallardo-Domás (Salud). Jorge De León (Paco). María Luisa Corbacho (La abuela). Felipe Bou ( El Tio Sarvaor). Candra Ferrández (Carmen/vendoras). Isaac Galán (Manuel). Esperanza Fernández (Flamenco singer). Juan Carlos Gómez Pastor (Flamenco guitar). Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana/Orquestra de la Communitet Valenciana/Lorin Maazel, cond.
C MAJOR DVD TT: 81 min.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Sergiu Celibidache, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2011408 TT: 90 min.+ 54 min. documentary

Eino Rautavaara (b. 1928) is best known for his 1972 Cantus Arcticus in which he incorporated the sounds of birds. His works include 8 symphonies, many concertos for a wide variety of instruments, and choral music, along with 9 operas few of which are heard outside of Finland. His eighth opera, Aleksis Kivi, composed 1995-1996, is about the author who wrote the first major Finnish novel, Seven Brothers. Rautavaara's opera tells the tragic story of the Kivi's life, his idyllic youth, productivity, criticism of his work, and final depression and drunken breakdown. Rautavaara's music is not note-spinning. Scored for a small orchestra (strings, two clarinets, percussion and synthesiser), the score always cushions the text which was written by the composer. This performance could be considered definitive. Jorma Hynninen created the title role in 1997, and can be heard in a recording made more than a decade ago. He is moving indeed, particularly in the Epilogue as he faces the reality of death. The entire cast obviously is dedicated to this project, and Mikko Franck's conducting could not be bettered. The simple sets and costumes do not detract from the music. This performance was recorded in October 2010 by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, and they did a superb job: video and stereo sound are excellent. The 23-minute bonus includes conversations with the composer, Hynninen and Franck. Check out this recording, a superb presentation of a gentle but powerful opera.

Falla's La Vida Breve, which could be called a tragic zarzuela, is best known for two orchestral interludes: Intermezzo and Spanish Dance. It is a short opera about the love of the gypsy girl Salud for the wealthy Paco who professes his love for her even though he is about to marry a wealthy socialite. Salud goes to Paco's wedding, confronts him, and falls dead at his feet—which seems to be a rather odd conclusion, but that's what Falla intended. There have been several memorable recordings, notably two by Victoria de los Angles, in 1952 and 1965, and Teresa Berganza in 1978, that set the standard for this music. This production was staged and designed by Giancarlo Del Monaco, filmed at Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia April 17, 2010. The set is stark, huge red walls that effectively suggest blood and tragedy. Lorin Maazel's conducting captures the Spanish flavor, and the cast is uniformly strong. Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo Domás, who sang Cio-cio-san at the Met's opening night in 2006, as well as Turandot. Her large voice hardly suggests the fragility and pathos of the doomed gypsy girl. This is the only video of Falla's masterpiece. Running time is only 81 minutes; it seems odd there isn't a documentary about the production.

Romanian Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) is one of the most revered conductors of our time. Although he had little experience, in 1945 he was appointed principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic when Wilhelm Furtwängler was suspended because of his Nazi activities. For seven years he conducted exciting performances, but over the years became more eccentric and demanding, offending many players in the Orchestra. He left under unpleasant circumstances when Furtwängler returned, and for many years appeared as guest conductor with other orchesstras, but only if permitted him unlimited rehearsals. Celibidache was leader for a short time of various orchestras including the Stuttgart Radio, Stockholm Radio Symphony and the French National Orchestra, but his major position began in Munich in 1979 and continued until his death. Some of his Munich performances have been issued on DVD, many more on CD. Often his penchant for slow tempi resulted in clear but rather boring interpretations, but when he was at his best, he was extraordinary. Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 is a work available on DVD, a performance from 1985 with the Munich orchestra, as well as CDs with Munich and Stuttgart. Symphony No. 7 is featured on this unique Euroarts DVD, a concert taped March 31/April 1, 1992, the first and last time, after 38 years, Celibadache conducted the BPO. It is a powerful performance, micromanaged by the conductor as can be seen from the rehearsal. Video is excellent, with rasonably good stereo sound. The 54-minute documentary is fascinating, offering excerpts from meticulous rehearsals along with commentary about the conductor's career. A fascinating, historic release in every way!

R.E.B. (June 2012)