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Blu-ray has shifted the classical music video into a new realm, as is evidenced by the ready availability of opera recitals, soloists and orchestra concerts of every kind on various (usually European) labels. Videotaped in beautiful music halls, these performances reflect the tastes and desires of the musicians and conductors involved, reaching far afield of the classic pop concerts put on in venues like the Los Angeles Hollywood Bowl.
The Euroarts label has released a new disc called Achúcarro & Rattle: Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The disc combines two concerts from 2010. On September 7 of that year the Englishman Sir Simon Rattle conducted pianist Joaquín Achúcarro and the Berliner Harmoniker at the Berliner Philharmonie. Exactly one month later the pianist gave a longer solo concert at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Joaquín Achúcarro is considered one of Spain's greatest artists of the post-Civil War era and has earned unqualified praise from all sides. He's also played with over 200 orchestras, in 58 countries.
The title piece on the disc is Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Noches en los Jardines de España) by Manuel de Falla, who premiered it in 1916 at the Teatro Real. Designed for piano and orchestra, the piece is divided into three "symphonic impressions". The second and third "gardens" appear to be dances and the third is the most recognizably "gypsy" in tone.
The Berlin performance runs a little less than a half hour. Unlike many of these concert discs no time is expended on elaborate entrances, bows, dedications or flower deliveries. Señor Achúcarro walks on in his tuxedo and full head of white hair, smiles pleasantly and gets right to his task. For his exit he repeats the same with a grateful air. The Berliners are most receptive.
The seventy or so minutes in Madrid are handled in the same no-frills manner. This time the show is all Achúcarro's. We miss the grand power of the orchestra but instead concentrate on the delicate playing of some very moody and intricate pieces. Some of these piano compositions written over 100 years ago have time signatures and eccentric melody lines that seem very modern to unschooled listeners like myself.
Most of the pieces are short mood items with Spanish themes. As Achúcarro says in his liner notes, all of Europe's composers were fired by Iberian music after Carmen. The playlist contains two pieces by Claude Debussy, La Puerta de Vino and La Soirée dans Grenade, as well as Maurice Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit and his Valses nobles et sentimentales composed of eight brief compositions. Also included are Quehas ó La maja y el ruiseñor by Enrique Granados, Navarra by Isaac Albéiz and Nocturne by Alexander Scriabin. Most commented on by Señor Achúcarro are two additional pieces by Manuel de Falla, Hommage pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy and Fantastica baetica.
Achúcarro & Rattle: Nights in the Gardens of Spain begins strongly with the exciting orchestral performance. It definitely calms down for the Madrid section, which represents a privileged opportunity for knowledgeable music fans to watch HD close-ups of a very cultured pair of hands at work. Achúcarro does not appear to use sheet music for any of these performances, which in itself is very impressive. The music is a relaxing, pleasant experience for the casual viewer, free of pretension and glitz.
Euroarts' Blu-ray of Achúcarro & Rattle: Nights in the Gardens of Spain is a sharp, quality HD. The direction of the two concerts (an actual camera director is given only for the Madrid section) concentrates on allowing us to see the artists at work. Only a few authorial touches are in evidence, as when the camera view widens to take in a row of flower vases for the "Lent" epilogue to Valses nobles et sentimentales.
There is no dialogue audio to speak of, rendering subtitles unnecessary. The show is also available in Standard Def DVD.
Made in Austria, the Region 0 disc plays perfectly here. It is encoded interlaced (1080i), a choice that results in some aliasing on shots where we see the strings and workings of the piano from a distance. Being in HD the effect isn't as distracting as it would be on an an inferior format, but it still looks like waves moving through the piano interior. I wonder if the interlaced signal is recorded by the taking cameras, or is introduced in the manufacture of the disc.
The fat insert booklet gives a detailed rundown on the playlist but has only a brief liner note essay by Joaquín Achúcarro. We listeners are eager to learn more about the music but the extra pages merely repeat the essay in four languages. Achúcarro's notes are mostly an appreciation of the composers, of which only Ravel and Falla lived past the first World War. We're especially moved by the story of Enrique Granados, who was also a painter. He perished crossing the Atlantic along with his wife, when his ferry was torpedoed in the English Channel. Granados had just premiered what was considered his greatest work, Goyescas, in New York.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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T'was Ever Thus.