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New Music on Blu-Ray

05-02-2015 | By Karl Lozier | Issue 79

Alexander Ekman's A Swan Lake. Composer: Mikael Karlsson. Conductor: Per Kristian Skalstad. Performers: Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. Art House Musik Blu-ray Disc 108 116

A Swan Lake by Alexander Ekman ('A' ballet)

To classical music lovers and to ballet lovers, the addition of the letter, 'A' translates easily as this production and performances, like it or not, are not representative of the famous Peter Tchaikovsky's world-wide famous The Swan Lake. Actually the performance by the conductor Per Kristian Skalstad and The Norwegian National Opera is quite good. That translates as enjoyable and there are no obvious faults to disrupt enjoyable music as the performance has nothing else for me to compare it to. So, with that said, the performance of A Swan Lake ballet is well done, enjoyable visually and audibly and in no way designed to compete or compare with a similar named ballet by the truly famous Peter Tchaikovsky. I can certainly recommend it as an enjoyable, entertaining ballet experience seen by me for the first time with no obvious faults and really nothing to which I can compare it to.


Giselle [Blu-ray]

Ballet: Giselle. Composer: Adolphe Adams, revised by Joseph Horovitz. Orchestra: Royal Opera House. Opus Arte BD7151 D

Ballet lovers often refer to the ballet "Giselle" as the quintessential Romantic ballet that has remained a cornerstone of the ballet world since its premiere all over the world more than a century ago in 1841! Evidently a great part of its longevity is because of its story even after all these years. The work's great emotional power propels the great realism of Act 1. The great other-worldly contrast is found in Act 2. The title role evidently must make these aspects self-evident and outstanding to do justice to the famous ballet and title role. It seems as Natalia Osipova has done that if famous ballet critics are to be believed. The first formed production of this role at the Royal Opera House, November 28, 1985. The first Ballet performance was way back in Paris, June 28, 1841. Controversies have been here all along, probably due to the fact that the role calls for the star to kill herself on stage in the first Act! As an interesting aside, some ballerinas do not mind stabbing themselves in the role of "Romeo and Juliet" because the deed is not done until the end of the play. A particularly interesting comment in this famous ballet role is that there have been many changes over the years in Act 1, though seldom has there been significant changes in Act 2. I was quite surprised that the musical score seemed to be more up to date than its age would suggest and was easily enjoyed with quite excellent Blu-ray disc quality very apparent.


Composer: Richard Strauss. Opera: Arabella. Orchestra: Staatskapelle Dresden' Conductor: Christian Thielemann. Recording: C Major Blu-ray Disc 717304

Composition: Arabella premiered in 1933 and was the last collaboration between Richard Strauss and his favorite librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Their first partnership was in 1905 when Strauss asked for permission to adapt his version of Sophocles' Electra and had followed similarly lines in Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frauohne Schatten and Die agyptische Helena. None of those however was anywhere near as successful as their second collaboration, the Viennese romantic comedy Der Rosenkavalier in 1911. It's no surprise that for years, Strauss begged for "a second success like Der Rosenkavalier!" Finally in 1928, Hofmannsthal put together a plot that had similarities though in a different time period. Strauss requested an additional number for Arabella to sing and it turned out to be "the key to the whole opera." A large number of interesting events transpired that were serious and some just extremely interesting. In a round about way, by both creators of the founding of the Slazburg Festival, Arabella was perhaps the perfect choice for Christian Thielemann and the Dresden Staatskapella to mark Straus's 150th anniversary at the 2014 Salzburg Easter Festival. Their playing of what is perhaps the composer's sweetest, most transparent score is unfailingly sumptuous and Renee' Fleming and Thomas Hampson have made their roles their own though never together before this. What an outstanding performance by Thielemann and the orchestra and to top that off with a "dream couple" for Richard Strauss' roles in the outstanding opera Arabella. The audio is as clean and clear as typical with most recent Blu-ray discs by the major companies. Some of them have been listening to us and responding with quality!


Rossini: L'italiana in Algeri

Rossini L'Italiana InAlceri. Composer: Gioachino Rossini. Opera: L'Italiana in Algeri. Orchestra + Chorus: Teatro Comunale DiBologna. Conductor: Jose Ramon Encinar. Opus Arte Blu-ray Disc BD7148D

L'Italiana in Algeri is Rossini's first great mature comic opera, but a work dashed with the sort of legendary speed for which the composer was famed: it was completed in just 27 days. (Rossini, who knew that his celebrity benefited from tales of his remarkable facility, claimed he'd composed it in 18) and premiered it in Venice on May 22, 1813. Most of the recitative as well as Haly's Le femmine d'Italia were the work of a collaborator, but the piece itself is none the worse for the lightness of touch and irrepressible momentum great inspiration brought with it. The famously unreliable in terms of facts, Stenlhal was astute, was a great enthusiast of this work. For him it represented "perfection in the style of opera buffs." He ascribed its charm and special levity to the fact of Rossini's age at time of composition (he was only 21) and the special character of Venice and its citizens. He felt no urge to create powerful music and was not afraid to repeat himself. This enchanted opera had no reason to offer reality or sadness. Why bother? Rossini was reputed to have said, "I thought when the Venetians heard my opera they would decide I was crazy. But they have shown themselves to be crazier than I am." L' italiana became the first of his works to be performed in Germany and a year later in Paris and then two years later in London. In other words, it assured his success and fame quite rapidly as a result and started with those crazy Venetians!


A German Requiem

Composer: Johannes Brahms. Composition: Ein deutsches (A German) Requiem Op. 45. Orchestra and Choir: Warsaw Philharmonic. Conductor: Antoni Wit. Naxos Blu-ray Audio Disc (24 bit, 96KHz Stereo and Surround)

Usually we seem to be used to Requiem masses such as famous ones by Mozart. This is not the case here. This is ultimately the result when the twenty year old Brahms met and impressed Schumann as the real successor to Beethoven and was pitted against Wagner and Liszt as a composer of abstract music. The death of his mother was the immediate reason for the composition of A German Requiem, a large scale work that developed gradually over the years starting immediately after her death. He chose to use some texts taken from the Lutheran Bible drawing on the old and New Testaments. Asides include the desire to use the word human instead of German. This powerful work does impress and strong passages use the lower strings and not violins in the beginning. As so often in the German Requiem, the mood of Bach is suggested in a movement at the heart of which the dead rest from their labor, finally to find peace in the Lord as the work moves to its meditative close. I highly recommend this great work. It is not particularly religious as are the Requiem masses and the great choruses are powerful and very effective and well recorded once again.