William Hedley has already welcomed this disc in its earlier DVD incarnation – see review. I should say at the outset that I’m pretty much in agreement with what he says, so, if you don’t want to read the rest of this review, you can go out and buy it in one format or the other with confidence. I haven’t seen or heard the DVD, but I think you may safely assume that if you have a Blu-ray player the quality of the picture and sound will justify the extra outlay.
This is a recording of a concert which took place at the Cité de la Musique in Paris in January 2009. You’ll get some idea of the quality of the central work, the Ravel Piano Concerto in a nine-minute excerpt on YouTube here: it won’t, of course, match the quality of the DVD or Blu-ray picture and sound, but you will probably agree with the comments posted there – entirely favourable, apart from one illiterate contribution referring to ‘Mrs Grimaud’.
The concert opens with Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen. As W.H. writes, it’s one of the most grief-stricken pieces of music of all time, inspired by the composer’s despair at events such as the destruction of Dresden and, presumably, an element of regret that he had, however passively, seemed to support the Nazi régime which had led to the downfall of his country. Much as I admire Vladimir Jurowski’s direction here, it’s still to one or other of Herbert von Karajan’s recordings that I turn for the full impact of the music: Karajan, too, had to an extent seemed to be involved with the ethos which had led to the downfall of Germany and Austria. (DG Originals 447 4222, with Tod und Verklärung and Four Last Songs. The later digital version seems to be currently unavailable, except as a download from Passionato.) The title Metamorphosen, however, contains within itself a hint of hope for an altered or metamorphosed future, and the performance here emphasises the lyrical quality of Strauss’s grief.
Hélène Grimaud is no stranger to the Ravel Concerto: her Baltimore recording with David Zinman remains available as part of a 2-CD Warner collection (2564691489) and a 6-CD set (2564632652) both at budget price.
Her earlier performances, however, have not been to all tastes: Bob Briggs thought that she failed to engage with the work’s emotional heart at the 2010 Proms, where she was accompanied by the Sydney Symphony and Vladimir Askenazy – see review. Nor was Christopher Howell wholly appreciative of her recording of the work which appeared in a Brilliant Classics box, though he admitted that it was illogical of him to resent her left-before-right-hand playing when his hero Michelangeli does the same thing. And, I think, Ravel would have expected the soloist to do so, as that was the general practice. That very inexpensive recording with the RPO and Jesús Lopez-Cobos remains available on Brilliant Classics (92437, 5 CDs – see review).
Like W.H. and the vast majority of those making comments on YouTube, I agree that Grimaud and Jurowski do get to the heart of the music on the new DVD/Blu-ray recording. Once again, however, it’s to an audio version that I shall mainly turn in future – the recently-released recording on Chandos which I made Joint Download of the Month in my January 2011 Download Roundup. (CHSA5084/CHAN5084, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Yan Pascal Tortelier – see review).
We return to Richard Strauss for the final work, though one which reveals a very different aspect of his music. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is the kind of 20th-century-meets-17th confection that I love. Like Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances and Beecham’s Handel-based concoctions, Love in Bath and The Great Elopement, it’s hugely enjoyable. Like them, too, for all the employment of earlier music it couldn’t have been written before the 20th century – or, in this case, by any other than Strauss, many of whose trade-marks it bears. It really is time that Sony BMG reissued the classic Reiner recording, preferably with the coupling of Stravinsky’s Divertimento that made it such an attractive proposition at 99p on an RCA Victrola LP (VICS1295).
Without demurring from W.H.’s appreciation of the performance, it’s unfortunate that it’s again just pipped at the post by another recent Chandos recording, this time performed as the opening work on a 2-CD set of Ariadne on Naxos, sung in English (CHAN3168). The opera and Christine Brewer’s singing within it is the main attraction of that set, but the Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite makes a most attractive bonus, especially as the original concept for Ariadne involved setting it within the Molière play (see review and my October 2010 Download Roundup).
The Euroarts picture quality is excellent, though there’s a degree of shimmer on the rear wall that’s common on DVD but which Blu-ray usually cleans up. The sound is very good, even played via television speakers. Heard over an audio system it’s warm and credible, with an emphasis on spread of sound rather than pinpoint stereo placement, especially if played audio-only, without the helpful visual cues on individual instruments. If, like me, you may well find yourself playing the recording audio-only, my CD recommendations may be more to the point, when the DVD costs around £25 and the Blu-ray £30. Blu-ray is an excellent sound-carrier – superior to DVD – but don’t forget that the Chandos Bavouzet/Ravel comes in SACD format. You could have the Ravel and Bourgeois Gentilhomme recordings together and get an excellent Ariadne thrown in, all for slightly less than the Euroarts Blu-ray, while including the Karajan CD of Metamorphosen would add very little extra to the cost. These audio versions, too, may strike you as more logically coupled.
Well worth having, then, whether it’s one or both of the Strauss works or the Ravel which appeals, but if you don’t mind audio-only alternatives, you may well choose to forego the visuals.