Wed, May 07, 2008 - Page 14 News List


By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

National Concert Hall, Taipei
Evergreen DVD No. 23

It’s less well-known than it should be that Taiwan’s Evergreen Symphony Orchestra [ESO] has a large number of DVDs available containing recordings of their concerts. I’ll review some of them over the next few months, and begin now with one featuring a concert given with, among others, the eminent Russian violinist Zakhar Bron in 2005. Also starring was the Japanese violinist Mayuko Kamio, only 19 at the time. The conductor for the occasion was Taiwan’s Wang Ya-hui (王雅慧) — she was then the orchestra’s music director.

The opening Vivaldi item is predictably light-weight, but the central piece, Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, is fine indeed. Most surprising for me, though, was the Poeme for violin and orchestra by the reticent French 19th-century composer Ernest Chausson. Beautifully played here by Mayuko Kamio, it’s a hauntingly atmospheric piece. Chausson apparently wrote it after feeling a full-scale violin concerto would be too demanding for his small-scale talent — half way between romantic and impressionist. It was first performed three years before he died after crashing into a brick wall while out riding his bicycle.

These DVDs from ESO have real charm, giving the genuine feeling of a live performance. The full range can be seen on the orchestra’s Web site,

Video Artists International, of Pleasantville, New York, continues to offer rare recordings of famous stars across the whole range of classical music. Watching its black-and-white Tosca, starring Renata Tebaldi (one of the 20th century’s greatest operatic sopranos) in a performance in Tokyo in 1961, is a strange experience.

The production itself is 100 percent traditional. The 39-year-old Tebaldi is wildly applauded on her first appearance on stage, and the Cavaradossi, Gianni Poggi, acknowledges protracted cheering with grateful gestures to the audience just moments before he is due to be executed by firing squad in the stage plot.

Tosca may be as melodramatic as any opera can be, but it has enormous strengths nonetheless. This performance is towered over by a superb Scarpia from baritone Giangiacomo Guelfi. He dominates the close of Act One, and the Te Deum against which he is supposed to snarl his evil designs scarcely makes a showing.

Act Two, at the end of which Tosca murders Scarpia , is superb throughout. This video shows Cavaradossi being tortured in the neighboring room, something that isn’t usually visible to a real-life audience. Meanwhile Scarpia is demanding his night of love with her as the price for his menials removing the spiked iron crown from her lover’s skull.

Puccini’s music isn’t ideally clear by modern recording standards, and the shepherd boy’s song that opens Act Three can hardly be heard at all. Even so, this is a version that collectors of operatic rarities will find hard to resist.

Haydn is known as the “father of the symphony,” but he was also the father of the string quartet. Prior to him, and in his earlier efforts in the form, the first violin played all the tunes and the other three players simply provided an accompaniment. But in the six quartets Opus 33 he made the crucial move of giving all four instruments equal, or almost equal, status, with the leading motifs switching around among them. This breakthrough led to the form becoming the premier vehicle for “intellectual” music for the next 150 years.

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