A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Dec 20, 2012
03:02 PM
Classically Speaking

The Really Last Minute Classical Gift List

The Really Last Minute Classical Gift List

I’ll admit this can only be filed under “better late than never,” but I’ve run across a bunch of great DVDs and CDs, and while I’m sitting here watching winter’s grand entrance, I must at least share a few that are holiday season appropriate.

Falling in the somewhat-short-but-very-sweet category is a Capriccio DVD reissue of “Christmas with the Vienna Boys’ Choir.” Originally released in 1996, this is a 45-minute “behind the scenes” look (and listen, of course) of the half-millenium-old ensemble in their home, the stunning Augarten Palace. Scenes of decorating for Christmas, preparing the feast, and yes, rehearsing and performing, are all blended into a background for the fifteen seasonal vocal selections. If you missed their local appearance last month, you can still enjoy them by your own hearth.

You may be one of those who believe that there’s no such thing as too much “Nutcracker” – and even if you’re looking for that first one to add someone else’s library, you could do a lot worse than the Bolshoi Ballet. Their production of December, 2010 has been released on DVD by Bel Air Classiques. From the ensemble’s pedigree to the live audience treatment, this is the real deal. The sets and staging are sumptuously traditional, and the playing and dancing easily make this a prime choice for repeated viewings.

Now that our own native pianistic treasures, Christina and Michelle Naughton, have spread their wings, their local visits remind us all the more how fortunate we are that they still come home to play once in a while. Not a moment too soon comes their first cd release, “Piano Duets” on Orfeo. The selections are nearly a “greatest hits” of  the repertoire, with major works by Brahms, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Ravel, capped by that stunning Lutoslawski version of the “Variations on a Theme of Paganini.”

All of the above are available via www.naxos.com (and probably some other sites), but you’ll have to go to Naxos to order any of their ongoing series of re-releases of their “musical tours” series. These one-hour DVDs were mostly produced in the 1990s for videotape, and it is wonderful having them on DVD. Each of them pairs a region with a composer or composers that matches the geography; no narration (although nice descriptions of cultural/historical landmarks in the booklet), just a nicely paced visual tour with a great "soundtrack.." The latest two I’ve sampled are “France: A Musical Tour of Provence,” with complete performances of Debussy and Ravel’s string quartets, and “Spain: A Musical Visit to Andalusica, Sitges, Seville, and Granada” with a soundtrack of Ravel (“Rapsodie Espagnole”) and Albeniz’ “Iberia.” It’s a nice thing to focus eyes and ears on when one has grown tired of the window scene of blowing snow and howling winds…Happy Holidays!

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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