Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8; Wagner: Overture from Rienzi; R. Strauss: Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome. Conducted by Andris Nelsons; performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Available in DVD (709908) and Blu-ray disc (710004). C Major, 2012. 100 minutes $24.99/$39.99.
This disc brings us a moving performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from the 2011 Lucerne Festival. 33-year-old Andris Nelsons directs and as he does, he leaves no emotions to the imagination; his face is so genuine and expressive that you could almost get the composers’ messages with the mute button on. The joy and intention of what he is doing in every moment is unmistakable and the viewer’s ability to experience Nelsons’ energy face-to-face is one of the greatest values of this production. The videography is overly feral for me, constantly moving, panning, or cutting, with too little time given to each shot. And Nelsons is shot at awkward angles that show off his excellent perspiration skills and the shadowy figures perched in the balcony much better than his sweeping and intense direction. That said, soloists and soli sections are given heaps of focused attention when they deserve it most. Though Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 8 is the main event, the two filler pieces are true pleasures to hear on this disc. The Rienzi overture hums with building intensity and bright emotion, and Strauss‘s Dance of the Seven Veils is a wild ride, but thankfully everyone keeps all their veils on. The Shostakovich requires a real commitment of attention and energy on the part of performers and listeners alike. This recording of the symphony clocks in at over an hour, with the first movement alone approaching 26 minutes, and Nelsons’ timing of each movement is perhaps predictably close to that of his mentor and fellow Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons. This disc is one of very few video recordings of the Shostakovich available, and I highly recommend it.
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; Mahler: Symphony No. 1. Conducted by Sir Simon Rattle; performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Available in DVD (2058904) and Blu-ray disc (2058908). EuroArts, 2013. 120 minutes $24.99/$39.99.
The Esplanade—Theatres on the Bay in Singapore was the last stop for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2010 tour, and this concert marks the first time the famed ensemble has played in the island country. This recording captures the second of two evening concerts given in Singapore, and it was broadcast in 3D to nearly 150 British theatres in mid-2011. Symphonic Dances was Rachmaninov’s last work, composed the year of his death, and in it he combines energy and his gift for writing haunting melodies with nostalgia for his homeland. The first movement quotes his own Symphony No. 1, and in the finale we hear allusions to his Vespers and to the Dies Irae theme. As you might imagine, the performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 is glorious. The orchestra takes us expertly through the moodiness of movement one, and the second movement is thrilling as it starts out with a flair of whimsy. The haunting third movement seems to lack energy in the beginning but builds quickly, and Mahler’s sneaky weaving between major and minor guarantees this portion to be the Ohrwurm of the show. Twice in the symphony Mahler borrows melodies from his own Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and the finale contains many references to the previous three movements. The camera work is spectacular and the audio quality is stunning. Highly recommended.
– Anne Shelley