AVANT OPERA ON FILM

Boulez Chereau Rheingold

In 1976, at Pierre Boulez’s suggestion, Wolfgang Wagner brought in the 31 year old progressive French stage and film director Patrice Chereau to produce a new “Der Ring Des Nibelungen” cycle for the centenary of the Bayreuth Festival, and aptly teamed him with Boulez as conductor. The result scandalized and shook the entire opera world. Conservative musicologists, such as arch conservative NY times critic Harold C. Schonberg, loudly expressed moral outrage and pointed to this production as an “opening of the flood gates” (some hysterically labeled this a Marxist “Ring”). Four years later, television director Brian Large filmed the Chereau/Boulez Ring and televised it over a period of a week. It was a ratings and critical smash.
Over 30 years later, this production’s power and legend remains undiminished. It was the first complete filmed “Ring” and is now looked upon by most as pioneering and the greatest of its kind.

BOULEZ CHEREAU RING

The stand out cast, which includes Donald McIntyre, unforgettable as Wotan and Heinz Zednick as Loge personified,has hardly been bettered. Richard Peduzzi’s stage design and Large’s camera work are exemplary, but this remains Chereau and Boulez’s Ring.

Donald McIntyre's Wotan. Boulez. Chéreau Das Rheingold.

Chereau, who was unfamiliar with Wagner and the work, endows this Ring with a fresh perspective. His is a penetrating, industrial age, Freudian ring, idiosyncratically interpreted in political, social and psychological terms.

BOULEZ CHEREAU WAGNER RING

The avant-garde advocate Boulez, who had previously conducted a radical, acclaimed “Parsifal”, brings an equally fresh perspective to this much interpreted work. The Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, accustomed to playing Wagner with opaque rolling thunder,came dangerously close to striking in protest or Boulez’s complex, brisk, diaphanous, minimalist approach. Continue reading

A lucidly filmed documentation of a mature Brucknerian’s energetic 4th

It could very well be that maestro Daniel Barenboim’s greatest contribution to music has been in filmed performances. Perhaps, none of his Wagner opera recordings, though “generally” excellent, could be considered reference versions. Yet, his filmed Ring and Parsifal (with Harry Kupfer), and three excellent Tristans (Ponnelle, the much missed Muller, and the recently departed enfant terrible Patrice Chereau) have no serious competition in the DVD market (it remains to be seen whether Barenboim’s 2010 Ring with Cassiers, coming to DVD this year, will hold its own).

Bruckner The Mature Symphonies Barenboim  Berlin

Barenboim’s recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas, again, while A contender amongst contemporary pianists, will not retire the likes of Schnabel or Serkin. However, his filmed traversal is an epic and indispensable record of sound and vision. Likewise, the recent DVD production of the five Beethoven Piano Concertos with the Staatskapelle Berlin. The 2005 Ramallah Concert with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, despite the naysaying of a few hardened cynics, is one of the most joyously filmed musical celebrations extent.

DIGITAL CAMERA“Barenboim in Chicago”oil on canvas. Alfred Eaker ©2001

Though not generally known as a top conductor of Verdi, Debussy, Mahler, Schoenberg, or Boulez, Barenboim has collaborated in excellent filmed performances of the Requiem, La Mer, the 9th Symphony, Variations for Orchestra, and Notations. Of course, Barenboim has maintained a lifelong commitment to Bruckner with two complete cycles (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic). Both have their proponents and critics, possibly because like Barenboim himself, they are an uneven lot (and while all conductors are uneven, Barenboim is almost radically so). Regardless of one’s stance, few would argue that Barenboim’s way with Bruckner can displace acclaimed masters Furtwangler, Karajan, Kna, Jochum, Wand, Klemperer, Cleibidache, or Giulini (although I would subjectively argue a few of these). Accentus with Unitel Classics has produced Barenboim’s performances of the mature symphonies with Staatskapelle Berlin. So far, the 4th and 5th have been released and although Barenboim has considerably more extensive Brucknerian competition in the DVD/Blu-ray medium (Karajan, Wand, Celibidache) his first two entries have already met with critical accolades.

Barenboim

Bruckner once said that his music, like his faith, was boundlessly expansive. With that in mind, the inherent spiritual quality and devout Catholicity of Bruckner cannot be blanketed, but there is little worry in this since such is rarely the case (although some have argued that Boulez’s Bruckner does just that). The trend has long and often been the reverse: promoting the transcendental qualities at the expense of the music’s corporal muscularity and direct earthiness (which, just about Catholic would say are far more pronounced tenets, despite the trappings, of that epically complex faith).

DIGITAL CAMERA“Barenboim in Chicago” oil on canvas. Alfred Eaker © 1998

While Barenboim acknowledges the composition’s religiosity through the music’s hushed qualities, he commendably keeps it latent and opts for a red-blooded, dramatic reading that emphasizes the theatrical German tradition that he belongs to (and that is the key to Barenboim, as opposed to the tiresome, often repeated claims that he is a mere Furtwangler clone. Barenboim has about as much in common with the likes of Klemperer and Walter as he does Furtwangler).

Barenboim's Bruckner

The camerawork and sound are lucid and non-intrusive. This a welcome release to the DVD/Blu-ray market and can be acquired without reservations. Hopefully, symphonies 6-9 will be forthcoming in a timely manner.

DIGITAL CAMERA“Barenboim in Chicago” oil on canvas. Alfred Eaker © 1998

THE WAGNER DEAL OF THE DECADE FROM OUR GREATEST LIVING WAGNERIAN

This is a no brainer. In the Teldec packaging, Barenboim’s complete Wagner operas are available at roughly three dollars per disc. No librettos are included, but at this price, one can easily obtain those elsewhere.


By “general” consensus, Barenboim is the greatest living Wagnerian. Dull ADD listeners are predictably apt to lazily compare him, unfavorably, to Furtwangler, but Barenboim merely is part of the same German romantic school, one that Klemperer, and others belonged to as well. The entire collection here is in clear sound, an important factor. Luckily, the conducting is as lucid and as animated as the recording quality.  BARENBOIM KUPFER RHIENGOLD

This Ring is one of the best modern recordings available. John Tomlinson’s Wotan can join the elite and he gives his own rogue take on it. Siegfried Jerusalem is also a characterful standout as Siegfried, Graham Clark is so slimy as Mime that he leaves a trail and Waltraud Meier’s Waltraute is colored in earthy hues. Of course, this is the same Ring that is available on DVD (with Harry Kupfer’s apocalyptic design) and may be the overall best filmed Ring to date. It compares favorably to many audio Rings, especially the stereo sets, such as Solti, Karajan, Bohm, and Boulez. Barenboim’s Ring probably surpasses all but Solti here and may, arguably, surpass the famous Culshaw produced Decca version. The Barenboim Teldec does not rely on an overabundance of effects and so, musically, may be more pure, but one’s preference will be reliant on priorities. While I might historically rank the Rings from Furtangler, Knappertsbusch, Keilberth, and Krauss on a more elevated plane, sonically those Rings, of course, cannot compete.

BARENBOIM KUPFER . TOMLINSON AS WOTAN

BARENBOIM KUPFER WALKURE

 

Continue reading