Right at the beginning I'll say that I am less thrilled with this highlights DVD from the 2008 Verbier Festival than I was with the one from the previous year Verbier Festival: Highlights 2007. First, of course, one must be aware that as a highlights disc, there are no complete multi-movement works here; we gets bits and bobs of them. The first of these, three movements of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet played by Joshua Bell and Henning Kraggerud, violins; Martha Argerich, piano; Yuri Bashmet, viola, and Mischa Maisky, cello doesn't catch fire until the Scherzo movement. I'm not quite sure what the problem is because each instrumentalist is quite wonderful individually, but somehow the thing doesn't hang together. The Fugue movement is actually rather boring.
This is followed by the fine young violinist Ilya Gringolts and pianist Aleksandar Madzar playing the last movement of Beethoven's 'Kreutzer' sonata, and a fine performance it is. Unfortunately the video of the live performance is so darkly lit that one almost feels as if it was filmed by moonlight. The Ebbéne Quartet, a foursome of young French instrumentalists, play an unexceptionable variation movement from Schubert's 'Death and the Maiden' quartet. And then we get the Festival Orchestra playing the first movement of Beethoven's 'Pastoral' Symphony conducted by the new conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Manfred Honeck, and the young orchestra play their hearts out. One might quarrel with Honeck's fast tempo, but the orchestra has no trouble giving him what he wants.
Another 'moonlit' performance is two movements from Prokofiev's piano transcriptions of his own 'Romeo and Juliet' ballet music, played by the fine young Russian, Nikolai Lugansky. And then one of the highlights of the disc, the Finale from Dohnányi's Sextet for Piano, Clarinet, Horn and String Trio. Among the instrumentalists are pianist Nicholas Angelich and clarinetist Martin Fröst. A performance with plenty of sparkle.
The rising piano star, Yuja Wang, then plays an evocative 'La Valse' in Ravel's piano version, followed by a piano version (the booklet doesn't say whose transcription) of Rimsky-Korsakov's 'The Flight of the Bumblebee'. Wang's lightning fast blind octaves are a wonder to see and hear.
For me the very best thing here is the Andante from Brahm's Third Piano Quartet with a combination of old lions (pianist Menahem Pressler and violinist Salvatore Accardo) and young Turks (violist Antoine Tamestit and cellist Gautier Capuçon). This is a ravishing performance which I immediately repeated the first time I went through the DVD. Marvelous!
The disc concludes with Mischa Maisky conducting and playing the cello solo in Bruch's 'Kol Nidre'. The orchestra is again the Verbier Festival Orchestra, a collection of terrific young instrumentalists.
If you don't mind single movements from multi-movement works and if you have particular interest in any of the musicians here, I would recommend this disc. If not, I'd suggest you pass on by.