VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Sinfonia Antartica, Op. (Symphony No. 7).
"The Vivaldi Album"
Pangaea's DVD features Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 7, the "Antartic" Symphony in a performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Judd with Deborah Wai Kopohe singing the brief, distant soprano part (the womens' chorus is not identified). The composer began work on this symphony in 1949 basing it on music he had written a few years earlier for the film Scott of the Antarctic, and give it the Italian title of Sinfonia Antartica). The premiere was in 1953 with Sir John Barbirolli conducting. The subject of Scott's exploration of the icy north appealed strongly to Vaughan Williams and for both the film and symphony he wrote some of his most powerful music. Scoring is for a large orchestra heavy on percussion, with piano and organ. Each of the five sections of the score is preceded by an appropriate literary superscription which is spoken on some audio recordings. On this DVD they are can be read on your monitor (along with other useful information) before each movement. While listening to the music varied scenes of the Antarctic are shown, very effectively adapted to the music. The New Zealand Orchestra performance is excellent if not quite of the caliber of the best of audio recordings of the music (those by Sir Adrian Boult, Vernon Handley and Bernard Haitink). The 5.1 surround sound works well, with the orchestra in front—a golden opportunity was missed by not having the soprano soloist and womens' chorus other than in front.
But this is only the beginning. There's much more. The DVD, produced with support of Natural History New Zealand, also includes Icebound, a 52-minute film telling the story of the golden age of Antarctic exploration; The Unframed Continent a 52-minute film featuring an "artistic odyssey around Antarctica;" work of three artists (two poets and a painter); Baden Norris, Antarctic Curator at Canterbury Museum, New Zealand, discussing the history of the frozen continent illustrated with artifacts; a section on Antarctic Facts—and a listing of web sites on the subject. There's much to enjoy on this DVD disk, which is part music, part documentary. A fine presentation indeed.
Back to pure music with Cecilia Bartoli's Vivaldi Album. Released in 1999, this has been a best-seller on CD and rightfully so. The remarkable mezzo and her associates have delved into archives of the National Library in Turin exploring manuscripts of Vivaldi's operas, finding many arias that have long been ignored. We have the benefit of their research with this superb recording that includes arias from eleven operas, many written for castrati. There will be a sense of familiarity with the opening track, the opening chorus of Dorilla in Tempe which uses music from the composer's Spring concerto from The Four Seasons, but what follows will be new to most listeners. Solo writing is remarkably florid, rich in coloratura and tossed off with the greatest of ease by the remarkable Bartoli. Accompaniments are by a small, varied ensemble, played to perfection by Il Giardino Armonico. Bartoli's collection of music of Salieri has been issued in multi-channel but on SACD instead of DVD Audio (see REVIEW). One cannot help but wonder why this was done.
R.E.B. (February 2004)