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Peter I. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 in C minor, op. 17 “Little Russian”
Gioachino Rossini: Le Siège de Corinthe“Galop”
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida: Overture – La Traviata: “Di Madride noi siam mattadori,” Prelude to Act I, “Sempre libera degg'io” & “Libiam ne' lieti calici” – I Vespri Siciliani: “Mercé, dilette amiche” – Rigoletto: “Questa o quella per me pari sono” – Attila: Prelude – I lombardi alla prima crociata: “O Signore, dal tetto natio,” “La mia letizia infondere” – Nabucco: “Va' pensiero sull'ali dorate”

Desirée Rancatore (soprano), Saimir Pirgu (tenor), Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice, Claudio Marino Moretti (chorus master), Members of the Ballet of Teatro alla Scala Milan, Mvula Sungani (choreographer), Roberto Bolle (guest soloist), Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
Recorded at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Italy (January 1, 2013) – 100’
Arthaus Musik Blu-ray disc 108 095 (or DVD 101 698) – Picture format: 16:9 NTSC 1080i Full HD – Sound format: dts-HD Master Audio 5.1, PCM Stereo – No Subtitles – Booklet essays in English, German, and French

While televised New Year’s concerts are most associated with the great Vienna Philharmonic, they have grown to more prominence in the past several years culminating in commercial DVD/Blu-ray releases. This recording finds the resplendent halls of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice glittering and its musical occupants in fine form on the occasion of New Year’s Day, 2013.

Perhaps most intriguing about this release is the man who is pacing these festivities, Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Here, his territory is relatively less highbrow than his most renowned performances, but he is a cheery maestro, leading his forces with bravura.

The program revolves around Tchaikovsky’s spirited Second Symphony. The Venetians perform the piece with blazing sonorities and a power. Gardiner, for his part, leads the piece with wide-eyed enthusiasm, needling and cajoling the players in a fine, brash performance.

The rest of the programming ranges from expected to curious. The opera arias highlight the soloists’ strengths. Soprano Desirée Rancatore is a glamorous presence whose soprano is powerful with a pleasant shimmer. Her performances, while mannered, are engaging thanks to her sumptuous tone and spine-tingling high notes, as in the interjected high E-flat at the end of “Sempre Libera.”

Saimir Pirgu is the tenor with the million dollar smile. His contagious geniality is a strength in the Rigoletto arias. An enticing lyric tenor with a shade of tenore di grazia, Pirgu’s voice is a light if convincing instrument. While it’s not a completely grounded voice, Pirgu is certainly a singer to take note of.

The choral contributions are highlights, particularly the beloved “Va pensiero” where Gardiner’s affinity for the genre is apparent in the expressivity of the performance. Among the more curious inclusions was the concert opener, the overture to Aida that was composed for the Milan premiere. It’s an intriguing choice, but at twelve-minutes is a lumbering piece with clumsy transitions. It’s clear to see why Verdi abandoned it. On the other hand, Rossini’s fiery “Galop” from Le Siège de Corinthe is a compact punch, performed crisply by the reduced orchestra.

The members of La Scala ballet admirably support ballet superstar Roberto Bolle but the choreography is somewhat incongruous to the assigned music (filmed separately and overlaid). The overture to Un ballo in maschera (uncredited) is the most successful dance sequence, shot outside near the water in the picturesque city.

Venice’s restored hall glistens in this HD recording, but details and creative camera direction are lacking. One gets tired of the center aisle zoom camera. The sound is a pleasing enough surround envelopment with the stage forces captured with detail. La Fenice’s compact stage sounds a bit constricted, but the overall tambour is pleasing. A few issues: there are no subtitles which, while not completely necessary, is a bit odd; on-screen titles for individual pieces are inconsistent with some missing; and the main disc menu doesn’t appear to have any choices for scenes or audio so all that must be done on the remote.

This is a fun disc if not particularly memorable. Gardiner’s participation (his second New Year’s concert in Venice) is the primary draw, but most of the repertoire is not overtly alluring. This is a light concert that contains a bit of occasion without the heavier pomp of Vienna, but lacks the punch or stars of other venues.

Matthew Richard Martinez




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