STRAUSS: Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24. Burlesque for Piano and Orchestra.
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40.
PUCCINI: La Bohème
This Strauss DVD with Karl Böhm (1894-1981) and the Vienna Philharmonic is a treasure! The distinguished conductor first appeared with the orchestra in 1933 leading Tristan and Isolde at the Vienna State Opera, and his last recording was a video of Elektra in 1981. He was a close friend of Richard Strauss and conducted premieres of Die schweigsame Frau (1936) and Daphne (1938) which is dedicated to him. Böhm made many memorable recordings of Strauss with the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and the Dresden State Orchestra. This Strauss concert was filmed at the Vienna Festival May 19, 1963 in the Musikverein. Camera work is basic but effective black/white, audio adequate to convey the stunning performances. This Death and Transfiguration is important as it seems this is Böhm's only recording of this famous work with the VPO; the climax is thrilling indeed. And we do get a chance to hear the famous Vienna concertmaster, Willi Boskovsky, in Heldenleben's important violin solos. Nikita Magaloff is the splendid soloist in Burlesque; there also is an audio recording of this work from the Salzburg Festival in 1957 with Böhm, Friedrich Gulda and the VPO. Throughout, the conductor's firm control and understanding of the music are apparent, as is the orchestra's love and respect for him. An outstanding, important issue!
Valencia has produced some remarkable opera productions, particularly the imaginative modern production of Wagner's Ring conducted by Zubin Mehta, reviewed on this site. Now we have a new La Bohème, a rousing performance produced, designed and lit by David Livemore, who keeps things moving indeed. There is a single set, with appropriate furniture added and removed as necessary, and it is intriguing to see projected images on the walls. Unfortunately, the cast is unexceptional, particularly Aquiles Machado, who has an unsteady sound, uneasy in high registers. In the superb high-def video he looks uncomfortable, and it just doesn't look right when Mimi is taller than Rodolfo. The best singers are Gal James and Carmen Romeu. Riccardo Chailly leads a vibrant performance of an opera he obviously loves—it is unfortunate the stellar cast of his 1998 recording (Roberto Alagna, Angela Georghiu, Simon Keenlyside) is not matched. A brief bonus includes interviews with Chailly and Livemore.
George Szell (1897-1970) had his early training in Vienna where he excelled as a pianist, making his debut at the age of 13 playing a Mozart concerto. He often conducted the Vienna Philharmonic both in concert and opera, and now we have three of his performances filmed in the Musikverein, the Mozart and Walton from a concert December 2, 1968, the Bruckner June 5, 1966 from the Vienna Festival. Szell's direct, exacting conducting is always apparent, and the great orchestra responds accordingly. Both the Mozart and Bruckner are conducted without score. Apparently Szell was a great admirer of Bruckner and could play all of the symphonies from memory at the piano when only 13. He also was an admirer of Walton and recorded his Symphony No. 2, Hindemith Variations and Partita for Orchestra with the Cleveland Orchestra. It is fitting after this brilliant performance of Variations the composer appears on stage with WA to acknowledge the music's warm reception. Video is adequate black and white, audio sufficiently good for the time. Another important DVD from VAI International.
R.E.B. (December 2013)