BEETGIVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op 19. Piano Concerto
No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37.
VERDI: Un ballo en maschera
VERDI: Requiem Mass
Here is a DVD of live performances of Beethoven's Concertos 2 and 3 with Leon Fleisher on the podium and his star pupil, Margarita Hohenrieder, as soloist. Concerto No. 2 was given in the Zollverein World Heritage Site in Germany’s Ruhr (with the Kammerphilharmonie Amadé), area and the famous Max-Littmann-Saal in Bad Kissingen with Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilborn) . Excellent performances as one would expect, video always has the camera in the right place, and the audio is of highest quality. Watching this video brought back many memories. Fleisher is a legendary figure among pianists enjoying a brilliant career before illness affected his right hand. After that, he concentrated on music for the left hand and gave countless performances of concertos by Ravel and Prokofiev. Many years ago I attended a concert in the Kennedy Center with the touring Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell; Fleisher was soloist in Beethoven Concerto No. 2. Years later when I was host of a morning public radio program in Baltimore, during a fund-raiser, Fleisher was my guest and a pleasure to speak with. He told a story of how years earlier he was on a BBC program and was asked, "how many hands are playing this performance?" They then played an incredible recording, which Leon had not heard up to that time. Leon said this must be a trick question, surely this phenomenal playing could not be one hand, it must be two, three or perhaps four. And then it turned out it was only one hand, and a left hand as well! It was Simon Barere's famous recording of the Blumenfeld Etude for the Left Hand, a work that Fleisher recorded.
Claudio Abbado obviously has great affection for Verdi's Un ballo en maschera. He has made a number of recordings, some on video. These are from La Scala, the Vienna State Opera and the Royal Opera. Placido Domingo is Gustavo at LaScala and the Riyal Opera, Luciano Pavarotti is in the Vienna production. The Royal Opera House performance here is from January 30, 1975. It previously was issued on Kulture Video. This is a a production directed by Otto Schenk and designed by Jürgen Rose, back in the days when operas were respected by their producers. This is first-class all the way, an exciting performance with a particularly dynamic murder scene, Video is fine, audio satisfactory although it is perhaps too close-up for the singers. Here we have Domingo in his prime, Katia Ricciarelli also in top form. I imagine most will prefer this "old fashioned" approach to the more modern versions on DVD, such as the recent one from the Bavarian Opera with a "mirror" set designed by Heika Scheele , conducted by Zubin Mehta(REVIEW).
This Verdi Requiem is a grandiose production that took place in August 2013 in Hollywood Bowl before a capacity audience, with four large TV screens to make it possible for all to see performers. Gustavo Dudamel was on the podium, and it seemed to be a gala, festive occasion. He is his usual personable self, obviously dedicated to the score. His soloists are variable. Tenor Vittorio Grigolo is perfect, bass Ildebrando D'Arcalangelo equally strong. Mezzo Michelle DeYoung's uneven sound distracts; soprano Juliana Digiacomo fares much better. Video quality is exemplary, audio quite successful in capturing the sound of massed performers in an outdoor setting. Program notes identify every member of the orchestra as well as each singer in the chorus. Admirers of Dudamel surely will wish to investigate this.
R.E.B. (June 2017)