Thu, Jun 01, 2006 - Page 14 News List

Classical DVD Review

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Symphonies 40 and 41
Riccardo Muti
Philips 070 1459

Musical anniversaries are all very well, and they do provide many people with opportunities to make money. But for recording companies they pose a problem. Customers will want to buy products related to the birthday boy, but what do you sell them? The anniversary events will prove money-spinners in the future, but what you need is new merchandise in the stores in advance.

One solution is to issue recordings of the previous anniversary. With Mozart this isn't difficult. This year is the 250th anniversary of his birth, but 1991 was the bicentenary of his death, and it saw a veritable Mozart orgy, culminating in the issuing of his entire output by Philips on 180 CDs.

This is the context in which two DVDs are now issued, again by Philips, of concerts given to celebrate the wunderkind in 1991. The first features his last two symphonies, the second his two most celebrated sacred settings. Neither product is likely to lack buyers.

On the first, Riccardo Muti conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in Mozart's Symphonies Nos: 40 and 41 at the 1991 Salzburg Festival. There aren't any surprises or spectacular splendors as such, and anyway Mozart doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve in his symphonies in the way he does in his more intimate and elusive piano concertos. That said, both the music and the performances here are of the highest quality. In addition, there's a very attractive early Divertimento, K.136, for strings only, played here as a curtain-raiser.

The two masses are an altogether more splendid affair. They were recorded in Barcelona's sumptuous Palau de la Musica Catalana with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monte-verdi Choir and, as orchestra, the English Baroque Soloists. Barbara Bonney, Anne Sofie von Otter, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Alastair Miles take the solo parts in both works.

Each of these masses was, for different reasons, left uncompleted by Mozart, and a small curiosity of this performance of the C Minor Mass is that it uses some minor improvements made by Gardiner to some of the sections completed in the early 20th century. But his main contribution is the restrained stylishness and brisk clarity he elicits from the performers in both works. The C Minor Mass is marginally the more enjoyable, and the whole DVD can be safely recommended to anyone who wants to see faces alongside what appear to be largely period-instrument performances.

Doesn't it occur to Nigel Kennedy that highly talented people are often necessarily lonely? His self-appointed role as ambassador to the young is admirable, but his on-stage personality can easily become a problem for classical music aficionados. A new DVD shows him playing Bach in a church in Dingle, Ireland. The audience is of all ages, but "cool" and "coolness"nonetheless feature over-frequently from the lips of the 50-year-old (I counted eight times on the whole DVD). His playing is first-rate, however, and if this item recruits new enthusiasts for one of the Western world's greatest composers, then no harm will have been done.

Kennedy and his guest soloists play the Violin Concertos Nos: 1 and 2, the Concerto for Oboe and Violin, the Two-part Inventions Nos: 1, 6 and 8, and the Concerto for two Violins. Bonus items feature more Bach plus some Vivaldi. A computer-accessible PDF booklet is included.

The collector confronted by EMI's fast-growing Classic Archive series, now numbering 44 DVDs, can be excused for needing some guidance. Help is at hand in a magnificent sampler containing 17 tracks, each from a different DVD in the series, plus a whole lot more. Most items are in black-and-white and all date from 1949 (Jascha Heifetz) to 1970. Most electrifying for me was Artur Rubinstein playing Chopin's "Heroic" Polonaise as an encore in London in 1968, but there were many strong contenders, such as Christian Ferras in 1965 in Paris playing the last movement of Sibelius' Violin Concerto.

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