BEETHOVEN: Nine Symphonies
Myrtó Papatinasiu, soprano; Bernarda Fink, mezzo-soprano; Burkhard Fritz, tenor; Gerald Finley, bass-baritone; Netherlands Radio Choir/Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Iván Fischer, cond.RCOA LIVE 3 separete disks in a boxed set. TT: 381:55

BEETHOVEN: Excerps from Prometheus. LISZT: Prometheus. SCRIABIN: Prometheus. NONO: Hölderlin from Prometheus.
Martha Argerich, piano. Vocal soloists. Solistenchor Freiburg. Berliner Singakademie. Berlin Philharmnic Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.

STRAVINSKY: The Firebird - Choreographed by James Kudelka - A Film by Barbara Willis Weete.
Greta Hodgkinson (The Frebird). Aleksandar Antonijevic (Prince Ivan). Rebeka Rimsay (Princess Vasilisa). Rex Harrington (Kastchei), Victor Bertram (Kastchei's Wife). Mariinsky Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.

The Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra (since 1988 the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) has made many commercial recordings of Beethoven symphonies as well as numerous live performances. . Commercially they recorded all nine with Bernard Haitink for Philips in the late '80's. . A complete set of live performances with Wolfgang Sawallisch was recorded for EMI during during concerts in the early '90's. Wolfgang Sawallisch previously had recorded Symphonies 5 and 6 for Philips in 1960, and No. 7 in 1961. Don't overlook the rare live 1950 performance of Symphony No. 1 conducted by Furtwängler (his only Amsterdam appearance), and Josef Krips' recorded Symphony No. 4 for DECCA in 1958, just now reissues. . Of intense interest is the set of live performances conducted by Willem Mengelberg during a 1940 Beethoven festival (all available on Pristine Classical). Earlier, he also made 78 rpm recordings of all of the symphonies except Nos. 2, 7 and 9.

Now we hav e this new set of all nine with Iván Fischer in live performances in the Concertgebouw. Fischer already has superb recordings of Symphonies 4, 6 and 7 with the Budapest Festival Orchestra of which for some years he has been music director.This new set offers live performances taken from concerts in March 2013 and January/February 2915. The brief DVD notes (in English, French and Dutch) talk of Iván Fischer's deep devotion to Beethoven. His interpretations are clean and crisp, and the RCOA plays beautifully for him. For whatever reason, the conductor has elected to use a rather small orchestra (except for Symphony No. 9). I notice many unfamiliar faces in the many close-ups, and there seem to be more women players than usual in this fine orchestra; this is not stated in any negative way. . Although this is a premium-price package, there is only one copy of the program notes (in the first box); obviously the intent is that those interested will purchase the entire set—they do not seem to be available singly at this time. My favorite video of the Beethoven symphonies remains the remarkable Claudio Abbado/Berlin Philharmonic set (REVIEW).

In May 1992 a special concert was presented in Berlin's Philharmonie devoted to Prometheus exploring the myth by programming music of four composers in an elaborate visal presentation. Claudio Abbado conducted the Berlin Philharmonic with Martha Argerich as soloist in Scriabin's Prometheus, and vocal soloists in excerpts from Nono's music for Prometheus. This is a film directed by Christopher Swann, and we cannot tell just what the Philharmonie audience saw, as scenes from the concert are interrupted by visuals. As the orchestra is playing excerpts from Beethven's music for Prometheus we see images the Prometheus myth with explanatory subtitles. It seems during the concert there were many colored light effects, some of which we can see. The major work is Scriabin's masterpiece with Martha Argerich a magnificent soloist (playing with score in front of her). Liszt's symphonic poem is given similar treatment. We have only four excerpts (fortunately!) from Nono's music for the subject featuring the vocal soloists.and a few instruments. This is typical Nono, abstract and dissonant to the extreme. It rather reminds me of a Carol Burnett skit in which four non-musicians perform a parody on contemporary music. In some way this program made for television is intriguing, but the overall effect is rather pretentious. And who wants to view performers via colored filters? This video was released by Arthaus in 2007; the new issue is a Blu-Ray version. The entire concert also is available on Sony CDs, where one does not have to experience the visuals. Some might wish to have this simply for Argerich's performance of the Scriabin, the best I've ever years.

The high point of this filmed version of The Firebird is that in it the Firebird actually does seem to fly. This is a new version of Stravinsky's masterpiece performed by outstanding leading dancers of of the Canadian National Ballet choreographed by James Kudelka for a TV film by Barbara Willis Weet issued in 2003; this is its first appearance on DVD. The stereo soundtrack features the early Valery Gergiev/Mariinsky Orchestra Philips recording. There is single unelaborate set with numerous white-brnched trees. Colored lights help the illusion, but this is not a Firebird to remember. For the real thing, try the Gergiev/Mariinsky version on Bel Air (REVIEW).

R.E.B. (MAY 2015)