Top Five Classical DVDs of 2011 (So Far)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Before heading out to the beach or the country for some R&R this summer, we’re putting together a list of movies to watch just in case a rainy day or two keeps us indoors. Luckily, there are a number of new videos that have recently hit the market. Here are our top five DVD (and Blu-Ray) releases from 2011 that have us wishing for bad weather as an excuse to sit in front of the TV.

1. Rameau Operas (11-DVD Collection); Les Arts Florissants

Rather than choose just one DVD, we’re cheating a bit by selecting 11-DVD collection of William Christie’s period ensemble Les Arts Florissants performing Rameau Operas. The troupe, which was recently in Manhattan playing Rameau ballet music to packed houses, is captured in recordings of five baroque operas, as well as Rameau’s Grand Motet. It may take a rainy weekend to get through all the footage.

2. Keeping Score - Mahler: Origins And Legacy / Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score program has been a hit on PBS and local station KQED. For the latest DVD, Gustav Mahler: Origins and Legacy, Thomas traveled to Austria to explore how Mahler’s background influenced his music his music. A second DVD included in the set features Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and baritone Thomas Hampson.

3. Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould won raves at the Toronto International Film Festival for delving into the life and career of one of classical music’s most fascinating and enigmatic characters. Extensive interviews with Cornelia Foss, who left her husband, the composer Lukas Foss, to live with Gould, give the film an extremely intimate understanding of the pianist.

4. Jascha Heifetz: God's Fiddler

Less enigmatic than Gould but still fascinating, Jascha Heifetz is profiled in the new documentary, Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler. Though he became a household name through his virtuosic violin playing, director Peter Rosen looks at the sacrifices Heifetz made to pursue his career, using family footage and interviews from Itzhak Perlman and former students.

5. Madama Butterfly: Live in HD / Metropolitan Opera

The stunning Anthony Minghella production of Madame Butterfly for the Metropolitan Opera (as well as the English National Opera), brought the late film director’s eye for cinema to the stage. It’s finally on DVD with a starry cast of Patricia Racette, Maria Zifchak, Marcello Giordani
and Dwayne Croft. Disclaimer: make sure to have a box of tissues nearby when watching this tearjerker.

Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera


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Comments [2]

Silversalty from Brooklyn

A few notes on the Gould film.

A classmate of Gould's at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (Ruth Watson Henderson) describes and demonstrates the technique they were taught for striking the keys. Their instructor was Alberto Guerrero.

Ms. Henderson also describes and demonstrates Gould's unusual approach to Mozart and Beethoven.

Gould discusses one of his interpretations of Mozart.

What I was trying to do was to play it so maddeningly slowly that in .. I had to get at that moment everybody's hackles aroused. I had to get a reaction. And having got that reaction with this incredibly apostrophed .. apostrophed? .. performance [plays some of the piece]. I gradually let out each variation a little bit more than the one before it and then finally, doing one really perverse thing, and that is taking a variation that Mozart has, forgive me, actually marked "adagio," and turning it into an allegretto. And that came out like this [plays his interpretation, then stops and says] .. whatever the notes are.

And gradually the whole movement took off. And um,

[interviewer] It's a very very peculiar thing to do.

It's a very arbitrary thing to do. But it works. I can only tell you it works and it works on.. um .. a work that I hope for most people has become sufficiently jaded that they'll say "Ah!" On the other hand they may say "Ah." [and Gould pinches his nose as if to avoid a bad smell]. You know. One never knows.

There are descriptions of Gould's Soviet tour, the "who's the boss" tempest, etc.

I think the key of the film for most people will be the romantic aspects of Gould's life.


A while back I had a classical musician in the cab. I didn't get his name. I think I remember a violin case. I had classical music playing on the radio and we began to talk about that. He asked me who my favorite musician was and I said that being a Canadian I favored Glenn Gould. We hadn't discussed Gould. He responded, perhaps with a bit more emotion than before, that Gould was a "hero" of his. I didn't ask why.

A hero.

Can you imagine challenging Leonard Bernstein at the height of his glory and in his own "house?" Can you imagine giving up live performances? Can you imagine, other than the Beatles and Glenn Gould, then making a living as a recording artist?

I'm reminded of a line from a Leonard Cohen song, "I came so far for beauty. I left so much behind."

Jul. 11 2011 09:24 PM
Ralph from Delaware

"Richter: the Enigma" and "The Art of Piano - Great Pianists of 20th Century" should be added to the list. Very glad to see Gould made it to the top 5. I could fill all 5 slots with Gould DVD's. "Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould" is the latest about Gould.

Jul. 08 2011 11:10 AM

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