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 (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!