Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Classical DVD and CD reviews

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Above, Piotr Anderszewski - Chopin: Ballades, Mazurkas, Polonaises
Virgin Classics CD
5 45619 2 4
Piotr Anderszewski - Bach, Beethoven, Webern
Virgin Classics CD
5 45632 2 5

Don Carlos -- or Don Carlo as it's called here, seeing that this is a production of the Italian version of a work commissioned by Paris and so originally written in French -- is probably nobody's favorite Verdi opera. It's an important work, nevertheless, transitional between the lyrical middle-period pieces such as Rigoletto and La Traviata, and the final masterpieces Otello and Falstaff. Here it's given a sumptuous production by the veteran director Franco Zeffirelli. It was recorded at La Scala, Milan, in 1992, issued on video in 1994, and now makes its appearance in the much more convenient form of two DVDs.

The story concerns a young Spanish prince, Don Carlos (Pavarotti) who's in love with his step-mother, his former beloved but stolen from him by his father, the iron-fisted King Philip II. Pavorotti was probably never particularly youthful-looking, but gives a performance that's vocally stirring. He's one of those artists whose talent is larger than his personality, and who appears perpetually baffled by what he's so curiously able to deliver.

Samuel Ramey delivers a fine portrait of the king, and Luciana D'Intino an even stronger one of Eboli, the princess who thinks Carlos loves her rather than Elisabetta, the queen. The role of Rodrigo, Carlos's old friend, is capably taken by Paolo Coni. Daniella Dessi's Elisabetta is always strong, and Alexander Anisimov gives us a blind Grand Inquisitor. Included in the booklet is an excellent long introductory note to the opera by Roger Parker.

Don Carlos is essentially a cumbersome opera with too many themes -- excessive tributes to France (Elisabetta was born French), approval of emerging nationalism (Flanders is fighting Spanish rule, in the same way Verdi's Italy had struggled for its own independence) and clashes between church and state (the Grand Inquisitor and Philip). The personal conflicts are more telling, notably those of Philip, an old king who knows his young wife doesn't really love him, and Eboli, a woman who knows she's doomed from the very start. Foretastes of Otello are many and constitute one of the main sources of the opera's fascination.

Don Carlos is a perfect example of something that's far more accessible on DVD than it is on CD, and exactly the same applies to another work that can be hard to get to grips with, Beethoven's Diabelli Variations.

Piotr Anderszewski is a young Polish pianist currently climbing the ladder of international celebrity against strong competition from such Chinese pianists as Yundi Li and Lang Lang. This Diabelli film, made for TV by Bruno Monsaingeon in 2000 and now released on DVD, is absolutely riveting and will considerably enhance his reputation. So will his two more recent CDs, the first issued in 2003, the second to be released in Taiwan next month.

The DVD follows what is becoming regular practice, 20 minutes or so of interview material and demonstration of the artist's approach to the music, followed by the uninterrupted performance of the piece with, in this case, camera shots of the pianist's face and hands from a variety of angles. This complex effect was not, of course, achieved from a single performance. The various camera shots, some even close-ups of the artist through slots in the piano's woodwork, were only achieved through a process of multiple takes and post-production work. Even so, the effect of a continuous live performance is well conveyed. The Diabelli Variations have become effectively Anderszewski's calling-card, and it's inconceivable that anything less than total perfection would be given the stamp of his final approval.

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