JOHN MCGANN | Boston MA United States | 12/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Michael Tilson Thomas does a fantastic job presenting the musical and social elements that went into this masterpiece of composition. The program is pithy enough for musicians, and accessible enough for music lovers. A very intelligent and entertaining piece of work; beautifully filmed and edited.
As a bonus, we get full performance versions of excerpts from "The Firebird" (beautifully played!) as well as the complete "Rite of Spring". The performance is very exciting; I am familiar with at least 4 other recordings of this piece, and sections here are taken faster than I've heard before-but never sound too fast. The energy and joy of the the conducting brings out the best of this incredible piece. This performance has become my favorite. Highly recommended."
The work - and this DVD - stand alone
Wesley Clark | Springfield, Virginia | 05/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To my knowledge, this DVD is unique. Michael Tilson Thomas does an excellent job of dissecting this music for those of us who can't read a score. I've been listening to Le Sacre ever since I was sixteen (1972), and there are many, many things I've learned from watching and listening to this DVD. (Not the least of which is the fact that the famous upper register bassoon opening is, in fact, quoting a Russian peasant song.)
The audio mix is especially good for hearing the various orchestral textures in this piece. (I heard details I've never heard before.) Also helpful is the actual footage of the instrumentalists playing the pieces - and discussing their parts in the work.
One note, however: A DANCED PERFORMANCE OF LE SACRE IS NOT A PART OF THIS DVD. What you get is an orchestral performance. (Some footage of danced scenes are in Thomas' commentary, however.) This concert performance is excellent - but it is just not complete. I suppose it's too much to ask for both..."
David C. Hunter | Chicago IL | 04/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD is fantastic, especially if you are not familiar with the Rite of Spring. The DVD goes through some of the background of Russian ballet and Russian composers from the late Romantic period, then briefly discusses Rimsky-Korsakov (Stravinsky's teacher) and his ballet Mlada. This leads up to to Stravinsky and the Firebird, then covers the radical departure to Rite of Spring. Michael Tilson-Thomas does a superb job in breaking down the musical material and orchestration of the Rite, and there are interviews with some of the musicians from the SF orchestra who describe and demonstrate their parts, although this can sometimes be a bit redundant in conjunction with the narrative. What is also remarkable about the DVD is that the viewer gets to see the conductor from the front, as opposed to the back of the conductor in a concert hall situation. Michael Tilson-Thomas is a very expressive conductor, and his face demonstrates this as well as his baton. I recommend this DVD for music teachers, as I use it in my classrooms. It is a very fine presentation of one Western music history's greatest pieces!"
An Enjoyable Music DVD
Richard Zencker | Scottsdale, AZ USA | 09/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Music DVDs can be disappointing to some -- there's not always that much to actually watch, and efforts to utilize the sound and presentation fomats of DVD often meet with only limited success. That said, if you have as the subject a piece like the Rite of Spring, there's more than the usual antics to watch.
This DVD comprises an hour-long video production originally aired on PBS showing some history of the piece, cursory analysis, and occasional contributions from orchestra members. In general, it works well, though there are some strange inconsistencies. For example, in the opening sentence the beginning of the Danse Sacrale is referred to as its "climax;" and while Firebird is discussed in some detail there is no mention of the next ballet Stravinsky scored (Petrushka). There is an illustration of Stravinsky's "borrowing" Rimsky-Korsakov's music for The Firebird, but no mention of how this bothered some of Rimsky's surviving family. Homophobes will be pleased to learn that there is no discussion at all of relations between Nijinsky, Diaghilev or any other persons mentioned in the program.
There are occasional danced sections, apparently utilizing the "Hodson/Archer" reconstruction of the original choreography -- it's debatable how closely this approximates the original choreography, particularly since the Ballet Russes were unable to do so a half-dozen years after the premiere.
Overall, though, it's an engaging documentary and I think would make an excellent introduction to the work. I rather liked the contributions from the individual orchestra members.
The rest of the disk is given over to a good performance of three sections of The Firebird and a great performance of The Rite of Spring. The documentary included a bit of the Ronde Infernale from Rimsky-Korsakov's Mlada that looked like it might have been from the same concert, but unfortunately that work is not included.
The Rite of Spring is the featured work here and the performance is indeed impressive. I haven't had a chance to listen in 5.1 format yet but the stereo sound is excellent. But what to do with the camera? One can't simply stay with a wide shot of the orchestra, or focus on the conductor. The solution employed here was to focus on the "featured instruments" in various passages. This makes for some tough choices and/or jarring edits, but considering the music inovolved it seems to work after all.
The concluding section is taken at a healthy clip as seems to have become fashionable (no complaints here). I occasionally see references to different "versions" of this work, but it doesn't have the clear revision history of Firebird or Petrushka. I see all the strange instruments of the "original" scoring: alto flute, E-flat trumpet, Wagner tubas etc. There is also a lot of holding the horns aloft; I went back to the score and indeed it is so marked. Another fun thing to look for in concert performance..."
Stravinsky's Youthful, Radical Masterpiece
Paul S. Rottenberg | Ft. Lauderdale, FL | 03/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Part of MTT's recent "Revolutions in Music" series, this DVD is perhaps the best of the bunch. Much of it is shot in Russia in such colorful locations as the Mariinsky Theater and Rimsky-Korsakov's apartment, both in St. Petersburg, and in the Russian countryside in a search for the roots of Stravinsky's masterpiece. One of those sources is found in the opera "Mlada" of Stravinsky's teacher Rimsky-Korsakov. MTT and the San Fransisco Sym. provide a fascinating comparison of passages from "Mlada" with Stravinsky's earlier ballet "The Firebird," making it clear where all Igor's three early masterpieces find their inspiration. Imagine what it must have been like to have been in Rimsky's classroom with three pupils of such high stature (but of different temperments!) as Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev! The star pupil was Igor, of course, and this disc provides an excellent introduction to his music. The complete performance of "The Rite" (which is, I believe, done in the original orchestration, complete with a huge orchesra with Wagner tubas!), is suplemented with clips from the Jeoffrey Ballet's 1980s reproduction of Vaclav Nijinsky's original choreography, which video is out of print, so the present DVD is the only currently in-print copy you can get. MTT and company are to be thanked for including these brief excerpts. By the way, I recently read that the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet danced this version of "The Rite," so let's keep our fingers crossed that it will be taped and released. In sum, there are many strong points which can be pointed out to recommend this disc, so, just run out and buy it (or click on the button!) Great sound and picture quality."