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Marc Haegeman "Marc Haegeman" (Gent, Belgium)

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Karajan The Legendary Decca Recordings
Karajan The Legendary Decca Recordings
Price: £35.91

49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelatory Karajan in Vienna, 23 Mar. 2008
Among the many re-editions that will mark Karajan's 100th anniversary year this 9-CD box assembling all his recordings with the Wiener Philharmoniker between 1959 and 1965 undoubtedly takes first place. Nothing of the 11 hours here is without interest, most of it is indispensable listening, even when seen in the light of forty or so following years of recording, including Karajan's own. There have been countless releases of Mozart's 40th, Beethoven's 7th symphony or Strauss's "Zarathustra" ever since, on traditional or period instruments, but very few can attain the continuous state of grace that Karajan demonstrates in these Vienna recordings.

Besides the admirable variety in repertory that Karajan took under his caring wings (from his personal favourites like Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss to the less obvious choices like Adolphe Adam, Gustav Holst), perhaps the most pleasant surprise when browsing through this box comes from the overall sound picture which is markedly different from what we would later (in the more numerous and prominent Deutsche Grammophon and EMI discs with the Berliner Philharmoniker) come to recognize, like it or not, as the typical "Karajan sound". Helped by a truly inspired Decca engineering team, these recordings not only amply stand the test of time in presence and dynamics, but more importantly the characteristic colour, refinement and transparency of the Wiener Philharmoniker are miraculously rendered. The silken sound of the strings, the individual colour of the woodwinds and the brass are a constant pleasure. It seems Karajan at this stage of his career and with this particular orchestra was still suggesting rather than dictating, but the result is by any means outstanding.

It's tough with such a box of goodies but if I had to point out a few favourites they would be Mozart's 40th symphony, unequalled by the orchestral balance, the phrasing and pulse (how this Mozart sings!), the quality of the strings; Tchaikovsky's ballet suites, a delight of colour, evocative power and atmosphere; Adam's "Giselle", by any means the most characterful stand-alone recording of this lovely ballet score which Karajan turns into a masterpiece; Richard Strauss's "Death and Transfiguration", a miracle of orchestral transparency, unravelling the multiple layers of sound to perfection and brought with un unfailing sense of drama.

This box of "Legendary recordings" is a superb gift. Even if one already possesses several other recordings of the works included here, it might still prove a revelation.

Valery Gergiev - Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker [DVD] [2007]
Valery Gergiev - Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Tchaikovsky
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £9.47

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A new Nutcracker for the Mariinsky..., 15 Jan. 2008
If you like your "Nutcracker" for the one half dark, ugly and populated by grotesque, unsympathetic and perverse characters, and for the second looking like Disney gone haywire, then this is the DVD for you. Forget about the candy, the lemonade fountains, the good fairies and pink child fantasies, this is Konfiturenburg as you wouldn't have dared to dream it in your worst nightmare. The brainchild of Mariinsky Theatre director Valery Gergiev who conducts the score and eccentric émigré artist Mikhail Shemyakin who created the designs and about everything else, this new "Nutcracker" resembles more a frantic attempt to be "modern" and non-conformistic than it is proof of genuine innovative inspiration and artistic vision. What is painfully lacking in this production though is a choreography of any distinction. Dance maker Kirill Simonov's effort is embarrassingly weak, moreover unrelated with Tchaikovsky's score and totally subservient to the parade of quirky, highly personal designs unleashed by Shemyakin.

Filmed live at the Mariinsky Theatre in early 2007, Masha as portrayed by doll-like Irina Golub goggles herself through the ballet, coiling, jerking and falling in an anthology of poorly crafted movements; the hapless Nutcracker has to wear a mask until the last fifteen minutes of the ballet - it turns out to be Leonid Sarafanov, a splendid dancer who is wasted like anybody else. Simonov's defining moment must be the Waltz of the Snowflakes in which the Mariinsky corps de ballet girls clad in black end up lying on their backs and crawling on all fours, before being send home by a Nosferatu-like Drosselmayer. Everything is delivered with the subtleness of a sledgehammer, albeit naïve souls might argue that the overall approach is ironic and full of wit. Sure, but why is nobody laughing then? What a waste!

Karajan: Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4, 5 And 6 [DVD] [2007] [NTSC]
Karajan: Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4, 5 And 6 [DVD] [2007] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Tchaikovsky
Price: £16.99

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Electrifying Tchaikovsky concerts, 15 Dec. 2007
Herbert von Karajan's lifelong fascination with Tchaikovsky's three last symphonies is arguably nowhere better documented as with these electrifying concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, filmed live in December 1973. The idiosyncratic nature of these symphonies seemed to have suited Karajan like a glove. Already at the very beginning of his career back in 1929 he programmed Tchaikovsky's 5th. By the 1970s after several recordings and even more concerts, he possesses a tight grip upon the overall structure of the works, relishes in the ever-changing rhythms and complex form of the 4th symphony, clarifies the polyphony of the 5th or emphasizes the melancholy and the tension of the 6th. In all he blends sensuous beauty, playful tenderness with ferocious outbursts, but above all - seasoned opera conductor as he was - the music sings from every bar.

Needless to say with Karajan one doesn't have to look for historical accuracy in performance practice (woodwinds and trumpets are doubled) and liberties are taken with tempi, but who cares which such music-making? The Berlin Philharmonic responds as one. By its precision, virtuosity and power this ensemble was in those days absolutely stunning.

Captured on 35mm film and in glorious stereo, the image quality is exceptionally good for being almost 35 years old. Photographed by Ernst Wild in the Berliner Philharmonie under the artistic supervision of Karajan himself, the famous image of the maestro seen constantly amidst his musicians is already in place, while the then groundbreaking films, initiated by the French movie director Henri-Georges Clouzot with whom Karajan worked in the 1960s, remain inspiring models of how to shoot an orchestra. The many deep side-shots focusing on lines of similar instruments have retained their visual beauty and poetry. Soundwise this DVD is a treat as well (in PCM stereo or 5.1 surround sound), revealing more than anything the superb quality of the Berlin strings (in the 4th and 6th divided left and right).

Strongly recommended for all admirers of Tchaikovsky, Karajan and great orchestral playing.

Swan Lake: Mariinsky Ballet [DVD] [2002]
Swan Lake: Mariinsky Ballet [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Uliana Lopatkina
Price: £14.88

46 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Swan Lake Gergiev-style, 18 Nov. 2007
The last Swan Lake on video to come from the Kirov Ballet dated from 1990 (Now available on DVD as well.) Among its assets were the intriguing, beautifully talented Yulia Makhalina, the young and brilliant Igor Zelensky, then still on his way to become one of the great Russian dancers of his generation; it had magnificently pure and authoritative soloists like Larissa Lezhnina and Veronika Ivanova in the supporting cast; it also had the incomparable Viktor Fedotov conducting the score with authority and understanding like only he could; and overall the production was packaged with a genuine sense of artistic direction.

Now, the Kirov is long since called the Mariinsky again, and the new Swan Lake released by Decca and filmed by the BBC in St Petersburg in 2006 is altogether a different affair. The production (now with different sets) is still the same old one by Konstantin Sergeyev from 1950 - based on the definitive 1895 Petipa/Ivanov version - which remains one of the most exemplary, straightforward readings of the ballet around. But this is about where the similarities end.

The current leads are danced by Uliana Lopatkina and Danila Korsuntsev. Lopatkina is adulated in Russia and abroad, and her many fans will undoubtedly welcome this release featuring the ballerina in one of her few signature roles. For my money, the filming came too late in her career and might have been a treasurable addition to any ballet collection some five or six years earlier, when Lopatkina's performances still had freshness and spontaneity. In this recording she takes the role of Odette-Odile in her now characteristic uncompromising, towering manner, with every inch and feather calculated and controlled. Her plastique is gorgeous but no less studied in the extreme. Her plight is long-winded and frozen, hard and eventually unmoving by its insistence on a certain spiritual quality which unfortunately doesn't stick to film. This is an Odette locked in her own world, relating to nobody else on stage, least of all the cardboard prince of Danila Korsuntsev. Her Odile is more attractive but again rather measured and lacking in excitement as well as in seductive power.

In such presence Danila Korsuntsev doesn't stand a chance. He may be an adequate porteur with great physical qualities but his prince is a cipher who dances his few bits in the Black Swan pas de deux without any distinction or interest. That the Mariinsky considers a weak performance like this sufficient to be preserved for posterity, is a sad reminder of the current lack of artistic direction.

The pas de trois as danced by Irina Golub, Ekaterina Osmolkina and Anton Korsakov is clean and very lightweight. Here too, there isn't a personality in sight, and everything is delivered without much purpose or concern. Andrei Ivanov's jester is an obnoxious character and anything but virtuosic. The only soloist who stands out is Ilya Kuznetsov portraying the evil Rothbart with panache and a genuine sense of drama.

The true star of this DVD remains the Mariinsky corps de ballet, immaculate in its lines and turning the lakeside scenes, beautifully rendered in this film, into a miracle of plastical beauty, stylistic coherence and spatial grandeur. Likewise, the national dances in the ballroom Act still look totally right.

Curiously, this might be the first ballet DVD release which bills the conductor higher than any of the dancers. Decca doesn't leave any opportunity unused to remind us that this performance of Swan Lake is conducted by "the great Russian maestro Valery Gergiev" (it's always wonderful that the labels emphasize how brilliant their artists are). A great conductor he may be, but it's still a fact that accompanying a ballet performance is far from his defining moment. The typical Gergiev mannerisms can be found here aplenty (the attention to orchestral detail, if sometimes at the expense of the overall line, the unnecessary long final chords etc), yet, worse, his reading lacks all sense of theatricality and spirit, which is with Gergiev's opera background rather surprising. Even Tchaikovsky's big finale sounds understated. As could be expected, the booklet features a full-page portrait photo of Gergiev (except for the cover shot of the DVD-case and some thumbnail pics in the booklet there is nothing comparable for Lopatkina or Korsuntsev) and again in the otherwise learned liner notes by Giannandrea Poesio about the genesis of the ballet we are reminded of how well Gergiev is supposed to understand Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Some words about the dancers might have been appropriate, although Decca clearly doesn't consider them important enough. Be that is it may, Gergiev might have been better served with a studio recording of the full-length Tchaikovsky score, without the constrictions of accompanying a live performance. (And let the Decca marketing not fool you, the double-CD release of Gergiev's Swan Lake is exactly the same live recording as on the DVD).

The image quality (16:9 anamorphic widescreen) is excellent, although as a film of a ballet performance this will never go down as a model. There are too many camera angles slicing up movements and bodies, too many close-ups and frames from the waist up, the central camera providing the overall stage view cuts off the feet, while the crane shots sweeping during the lakeside scenes among the swans are more annoying than revealing. The sound quality (PCM Stereo or DTS 5.1 surround) is first-rate although balance-wise the timpani and percussion should ideally have been more forward. Unfortunately, the editing has been too hasty (Irina Golub tripping in the Dance of the Little Swans, some wobbly endings of solos, Lopatkina floating in all directions during the fouettés, the model swans appearing a second time while in fact only the swan queen is appearing etc. could easily have been edited.)

Admirers of Lopatkina needn't hesitate, but to see a better focused Mariinsky Ballet and Swan Lake the older performance with Makhalina and Zelensky remains a clear first choice.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 29, 2015 11:24 PM GMT

Bolshoi Ballet - Giselle [1956] [DVD]
Bolshoi Ballet - Giselle [1956] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Galina Ulanova

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most exciting ballet films ever, 17 July 2007
Without doubt this is one of the most exciting ballet films ever. Paul Czinner's justly famed film of the Bolshoi Ballet's historical first-ever tour to the West, at London's Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 1956, is thanks to VAI now available in DVD-format.
The main part of the programme consists of the truncated performance of "Giselle" filmed at Covent Garden with Galina Ulanova, Nikolai Fadeyechev and Rimma Karelskaya in the leads. The remainder is a divertissement of Russian goodies which, as much as "Giselle", help us to understand why the Bolshoi dancing had such an impact on western audiences back then. After the Dance of the Tatars from "The Fountain of Bakhchisarai" and the Spanish dance from "Swan Lake" features the rousing "Spring Waters" duet (danced here by Ludmilla Bogomolova and Stanislav Vlasov), the Polonaise and Cracovienne from Glinka's opera "Ivan Susanin", an irresistible "Walpurgisnacht" led by Raissa Struchkova and Alexander Lapauri, and "Dying Swan" danced by Ulanova with incomparable serenity.

Even 50 years after date this film continues to astound, whether it is Ulanova's expressive veracity, Struchkova's daredevil bravura, Karelskaya's stylish authority, the scale and cohesion of the Bolshoi corps de ballet, the zest of the caractère dancing, or the overall theatrical eloquence of the ensemble. My only question remains how "abridged" this "Giselle" really was, and how much was actually edited for previous releases but exists somewhere in the vaults. That VAI lists a peasant pas de deux allegedly danced by Bogomolova and Evdokimov, but not appearing in the film, does sound like bad news.

Shot in colour, the 50-year old print unavoidably looks its age with the saturated brownish tint (especially in "Giselle") and many artifacts. Yet, just as the artistry of the Bolshoi dancers remains inspiring, the filming can still serve as a model of how to shoot a ballet. Many recent directors have done far worse with fake artistic close-ups of unnecessary body parts and frantic editing. Paul Czinner went straight to the essence.

Elvis Live
Elvis Live
Price: £11.00

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First-rate live compilation of the 1970's, 16 July 2007
This review is from: Elvis Live (Audio CD)
This is a first-rate 20-track compilation for anyone wanting to find out what Elvis Presley sounded like live in the last decade of his career. The selection is taken from various live albums and the songs are presented here as belonging to one single concert. The first half of the programme is covered by 1969-70 recordings with outstanding versions of "Johnny B. Goode", "Suspicious Minds" (the best-ever live cut from the 1969 "Elvis in Person" album), "Polk Salad Annie", "The Wonder of You", "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water". The second half features the hit single "Burning Love" taken from "Aloha" and the great 1974 live in Memphis rendition of "How Great Thou Art". The disc concludes with the unavoidable "Unchained Melody" from 1977, although they should have added "Can't Help Falling in Love", and why not the now classic 'Elvis has left the building' announcement.

The sound has been upgraded significantly (by Vic Anesini) and the remixed songs have real punch and power, also emphasizing the crack band that worked with Elvis. The general public at whom this CD is aimed won't be bothered by the misprint in the second half of the programme which claims that "You Gave Me A Mountain" and "An American Trilogy" are from 1972, while in fact they were taken from the "Aloha" album from a year later. The 1972 recordings might indeed have been a better choice, but let this not spoil your fun with this great disc, reminding us above all what a fantastic live performer Elvis was. At mid-price this is a real bargain.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 25, 2011 11:36 PM BST

Gavrilin/Maximova/Vasiliev - Anyuta Ballet (Bolshoi Ballet) [1982] [DVD]
Gavrilin/Maximova/Vasiliev - Anyuta Ballet (Bolshoi Ballet) [1982] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gavrilin
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £18.58

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Little-known Russian ballet with marvellous cast, 15 July 2007
Vladimir Vasiliev is not only one the all-time greatest Russian dancers, the former Bolshoi star has also proven a choreographer of real distinction. VAI re-releases his two-act ballet "Anyuta" as it was initially created in 1982 as a dance film with his wife Ekaterina Maximova in the title role. Adapted for the stage four years later, it remains one of his most complete and convincing works. Based upon Anton Chekhov's short story "Anna on the neck", satirizing life in a small provincial town, Anyuta concerns a woman who after marrying upon the social ladder discovers the power of beauty and sexual attraction, yet at the expense of all those dear to her. Set to an irresistible melodious score by Valery Gavrilin, Vasiliev's choreography, even if firmly rooted in the classical idiom and reviving the tradition of Russian literary ballets, is contemporary and adroitely portrays the characters, blending sentiment with the element of grotesque.

Ekaterina Maximova is magnificent as Anyuta, conveying a breathtaking range of emotions while Vladimir Vasiliev himself, cast against type as her hapless drinking father, gives one of his most subtle and moving portrayals. Supporting roles include Gali Abaidulov as Anyuta's wealthy and powerful, but stingy and boring bureaucrat-husband, John Markovsky as the rich and spoiled Don Juan Artynov, and Marat Daukaev as the student (a character introduced by Vasiliev) whom Anyuta is genuinely in love with

VAI provides a fair DVD transfer from this 1982 film, with only a few blemishes in the print.

Highly recommended.


17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Reiner in outstanding sound, 4 July 2007
This review is from: Spain (Audio CD)
While the accompanying re-release of Richard Strauss' "Don Quixote" and "Don Juan" with the same forces sadly betrays its age, this CD remains one of the true classic Fritz Reiner discs, sounding as fresh as if it was recorded last week.

Fritz Reiner's account of De Falla's ballet "El amor brujo" with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Leontyne Price remains one of the finest ever put on disc. The vivacity, the attack and rhythm, the sense of atmosphere and colour, the extreme emotions found in this music are rendered here with superb mastery. The virtuosity and precision of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1963 is downright stunning, while Leontyne Price's gripping dark-throated vocal contribution is for not being idiomatically authentic still totally apt.
The only regret one might have is that De Falla's magnificent "The Three-Cornered Hat" isn't complete. The three fragments, recorded in 1958, including the irresistibly lilting final dance, boast the same qualities as found in "El amor brujo". Two excerpts from De Falla's opera "La Vida breve", the interlude and the well-known dance, are also played with great zest and understanding.

The remainder of the programme from 1958 consists of orchestral transcriptions of three piano pieces from Isaac Albeniz' "Iberia", done with immense flair by Enrique Arbós. Here too the playing of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is second to none, with Reiner again evoking all the unbridled Latin passion of the "Fête-Dieu à Seville" and "Navarra". The Intermezzo from Enrique Granados' "Goyescas" is offered as a final bonus.

The three-channel SACD format is breathtaking by its clarity, presence and bloom. The orchestral balance and colour is rendered here to perfection (just listen to the build-up in the final dance from "The Three-Cornered Hat" with its powerful bass drum, sparkling percussion and colourful brass).

A magnificent disc.

Don Quixote, Don Juan (Reiner)
Don Quixote, Don Juan (Reiner)

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Badly aged Reiner, 2 July 2007
This Living Stereo SACD re-release won't go down as the most successful of the series. Fritz Reiner's straightforward and unyielding account of "Don Quixote" doesn't do the piece any favours, asking for more imagination and less restraint. Antonio Janigro is a fine soloist, in that he blends ideally with Reiner's approach of the work.

The booklet explains in many words how Fritz Reiner's orchestral setup for his 1954 "Don Juan", among others with violins divided left and right, differed from the 1959 "Don Quixote", while in fact there is no difference to be heard. They erroneously included the 1960 version instead of the 1954 recording. That said, "Don Juan" is undoubtedly the better part of this disc, at least if you like your hero to strike like a thunderbolt, but the recording is even in the DSD remastering sounding its age with shrill strings and saturation in tutti.

Reiner enthusiasts will of course already own these recordings from earlier releases, but I don't think this SACD reissue will add much to what they already have.

An American Trilogy
An American Trilogy

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great live Elvis, but let down by sound quality, 15 Jun. 2007
This review is from: An American Trilogy (Audio CD)
Follow That Dream compiled a show from Elvis Presley's Jan/Feb 1972 Las Vegas season. The bulk of the CD (tracks 1-17) consists of multi-track recordings, the remainder is taken from soundboard. Perversely, while the sound quality of the soundboard tracks is totally acceptable, the multi-track recordings (mastered by Lene Reidel) are a disappointment, lacking in punch and clarity, and suffering from a poor mix, especially when compared to earlier releases (e.g. "Burning Love" or the "Walk A Mile in My Shoes" box, or also the recent compilations which boast DSD audio).

Only part of the material here is unreleased, but the overall quality of Elvis' shows in this season is indisputable. 1972 was the year of the fabulous March sessions which gave us gems like "Burning Love" and "Always On My Mind", the rockumentary Elvis On Tour, and Elvis' appearances at Madison Square Garden. Here, at the beginning of the year, we get truly inspired versions of "You Gave Me A Mountain", "It's Impossible" (in an outstanding arrangement and beautifully sung - previously released, but now complete with a false start), "It's Over" (again, what a magnificent performance), "The Impossible Dream", "An American Trilogy", and "Until It's Time For You To Go". Live, Elvis would hardly ever sound as good again as he did here.

Content-wise "An American Trilogy" is a superb CD and it would have been a sure five-star release if it wasn't let down by the sound quality.

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