Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Ysaye and Bach
Live in St. Petersburg
Naxos 2.110283 [DVD]
My enthusiasm of the month is undoubtedly for the young Chinese violinist Yang Tianwa (楊天媧, born 1987). Two new products have been released this year, both on the Naxos label — a DVD of a concert in St. Petersburg, issued in March, and a CD of the complete violin sonatas of Eugene Ysaye, issued in April.
It’s arguable that Yang should have received even more acclaim than she has. It’s a crowded field, of course, but her recordings on Naxos have received high praise, and her strong style, somber and deeply admirable, hits you the moment she starts playing. It’s as if she’s carving a sculpture out of a log, and then hurling it at you.
The video is typical of her strengths (she doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses). Playing in St. Petersburg’s diminutive Capella Concert Hall, she renders Tchaikovsky’s and Brahms’ violin concertos with sonorous tones and great energy, then goes on to play an excerpt from Ysaye’s Violin Sonata No: 3 just to show what technical brilliance she’s capable of. In fact, of course, she was probably working on these incredibly difficult Ysaye compositions at the time, in preparation for her CD of all six of them [Naxos 8.572995].
Almost as much in advance of his era as the Belgian Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931) was the Spanish composer and violinist Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), and Yang has also completed for Naxos a complete set of all his violin music on eight CDs.
Included on this DVD is Yang playing Bach’s Violin Partita No: 2 complete, in a studio setting.
Barenboim, Teatro alla Scala
ArtHaus 101695 [2 DVDs]
Earlier this year Arthaus Musik issued a pair of DVDs of the 2012 production at La Scala, Milan of the third opera of Wagner’s Ring cycle, Siegfried, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Unfortunately Guy Cassiers’ visual effects do little to complement this titanic masterpiece.
Act 1 is set against what appears to be some kind of grille, and though the concluding forging of the sword is impressive, as it invariably is, neither Siegfried (Lance Ryan), The Wanderer/Wotan (Terje Stensvold) nor Mime (Peter Bronder) give real passion to their roles. Wotan in particular, though amiable, lacks interiority.
Act 2 suffers from interpretative muddle. The dragon Fafner is first a mass of lights among the trees, then a soloist under a cloth, then the singer himself (the forceful Alexander Tsymbalyuk). We also get to see the soprano singing the role of the Woodbird (an uplifting Rinnat Moriah). But far more unusually we also see a group of Siegfried lookalikes, at one stage manipulating their swords to make a Star of David, presumably to highlight what some critics have seen as the Jewishness — and victimhood — of Mime, who Siegfried casually kills in this scene. But none of these effects add to the power of the drama.
Things improve markedly in Act 3, however, almost entirely because the characters are left alone and allowed to sing their roles untrammeled. Erda (Anna Larsson) is a strong presence, and in particular Brunnhilde (Nina Stemme) virtually redeems the entire production with her heartfelt and finally brilliant singing.
These DVDs can be hard to find, but are currently available on the Presto Classical Web site.
La Passion de Simone
By Kaija Saariaho