DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
DVD Reviews, Part 1 of 2
Published on December 1, 2004
|December 2004 Part 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
All Music Videos
Wilhelm Kempff plays Beethoven (1964)
Studio: VAI DVD 4283
The close camera work captures the intense concentration Kempff applies to the realization of Beethoven’s most massive, expansive sonata. Kempff plays with an easy lyricism, and his form in 1964 is quite strong; there are few of the finger-slips that plagued his later work. He allows Beethoven a rare sense of spiritual repose, particularly in the Adagio sostenuto. I find his playing of the ironic Scherzo somewhat peremptory. There is an especial dignity and sobriety Kempff brings to Beethoven; whether one chooses to call his playing “magisterial” or “noble,” there is no forcing of the emotional issues, and the melodic-harmonic texture appears to flow out of itself. So rapt is Kempff within the melodic labyrinths of the Adagio that the circling of the camera only seem to tiptoe around his shoulders. The image of Kempff’s crossed hands appears to have caught the camera’s lingering attention. The last movement has an aggressive counterpoint, as Kempff is not one to dally or to retard forward motion. The whole experience is quite compelling, assuming one can give this video the undivided attention which its ministry requires.
George Szell: The Cleveland Orchestra–One Man’s Triumph (1966)
Studio: VAI 4271
By 1966, George Szell had been active in music for 58 years, having made his debut as a concert pianist and young composer with the Vienna Symphony in 1908. To see him coach young James Levine, Michael Charry, and Stephen Portman on the rudiments and psychology of conducting and orchestral response is to see a master technician pass the baton literally on to the next generation. Szell reminisces on Strauss the conductor, who himself used a minimum of gesture to elicit a huge, orchestral response. As Irving Kolodin rightly notes, conducting is not merely the “correct” execution of the notes, it is a knowledge of the composer’s own mind, what Szell calls “imagination in the direction of their thinking, not being mere robots recreating tones.” We witness the constant flexibility of Szell’s thnking, making any number of tiny incremental adjustments to the entries, accents, and dynamics of the Brahms Overture, bringing out a bit of sarcasm in the student tunes. We see him actually ask Druian to play “sentimentally” a short, melodic kernel from the Berg, which Szell manages to read from piano reduction without missing a beat. After having coached the Cleveland Orchestra through the agogics of Beethoven’s opening movement of the C Minor Symphony, the video ends triumphantly with the symphony’s finale, the C Major trumpets ringing out to the concluding peroration, when a mammoth “Bravo!” erupts from an enthralled audience. Conductor, players, and audience simultaneously bask in the refined glories of artistic possibility; or, as Kolodin suggests, in one man’s constant seeking after the impossible perfection.
SHCHEDRIN: Anna Karenina–Ballet in 3 Acts
Maya Plisetskaya; Vronsky Vladimir Tikhonov; Yuri Vladimirov; Artists of the Bolshoi Ballet; The Bolshoi Theater Orchestra/Yuri Simonov
Besides the alternately exquisite and explosive physical style of Plisetskaya’s dancing, the color concept of the film is itself a major component of this film. The stark reds and blacks that dominate the scene at the railway station–scene of the first fatal accident and later the scene of Anna’s suicide–illuminate throughout the ballet the self-destructive tendencies in Anna’s character. The Man at the Station (Vladimirov) becomes a kind of human emblem of emotional chaos. As Anna becomes increasingly enamored of Vronsky (Godunov), the Man at the Station engages in numerous pas de trois, often substituting himself for both chilly husband Karenin (Tikhonov) and Vronsky – a kind of wedding-in-death. Tikhonov’s role as the staid and unemotional Karenin is a model of social righteousness, and he comes to preside at a grand ball scene whose colors and staid pageantry have all of the emotional glamor of a beheading.
While the music of Shchedrin is not particularly memorable – its only melodic kernels co-opted from Tchaikovsky’s Third “Polish” Symphony – there are any number of rhythmic motifs that provide a kind of leitmotive-tapestry for Anna and the two men in her life. Alexander Godunov makes a startling Vronsky, exploiting his athleticism and broad leaps to contrast with the mincing, wooden gestures of the man Vronsky cuckolds. Director Pilikhina exploits several kinds of visual effects to make Vronsky’s love alternately buoyant and menacing, a source of freedom for the repressed Anna and an ineluctable social crucifixion of her reputation as a wife and mother. The use of color, again, can be unnervingly dynamic, sometimes even using a totally black background to denude the lovers of all social support. What dancer Plisetskaya has accomplished in her choreography is a psychodynamic surreal look into the dissolution of a marriage and of a vivacious young woman’s mind due to emotional excess. The tilting of the camera to portray Anna’s last futile rush to embrace her son Seryozha (A. Sedov) is effective, as is the cold restraining hand of her sepulchral husband. A visually and balletic tour de force, Anna Karenina satisfies less as a musical experience than as an imaginative adaptation of a great novel by a thorough professional of the dance.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (The Adventures of a Wunderkind) A Portrait and Concerto (2001)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hugh Wolff
This arrangement of documentary film plus concert allows you to view the concert at a different time if you wish – which is what I did. The concert opens and closes with Korngold concertos which liberally use themes from his film scores. The soloists are Violinist Leonidas Kavakos and Cellist Quirine Viersin. In the center are two short selections of works Korngold composed in Vienna in the first decade of the century: two Character Pieces from Don Quixote, and two selections from 7 Fairytale Pictures: Gnomes and Epilogue. The Cello Concerto had been discussed in the Portrait. It was expanded from its central part in the movie Deception to a 15-minute concerto. In the movie a murder is committed just prior to the premiere of the virtuosic concerto. The lengthier Violin Concerto which ends the concert shows Korngold recycling material from several of his films scores, including Anthony Adverse, Another Dawn, Juarez, and The Prince and the Pauper. Jascha Heifetz premiered the concerto in l947. The concert images are mostly extreme closeups, and it is interesting that the Dolby Digital data reduction of the documentary was dropped in favor of unmodified PCM stereo for this portion of the DVD. No audience was present for the concert; the shots are so close I was unable to see if the venue was a studio or concert hall.
- John Sunier
Jussi Bjoerling in Opera & Song
Studio: Kulture DVD D2424
In one unintentionally hilarious scene, he sings Krezner’s Prayer of Thanksgiving in front of scenery fashioned to resemble portals of a church, complete with kindly vicar. He and his wife Anna-Lisa also sing touching duets from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (O mio babbino caro) and La Boheme (O soave funciulla), both obviously filmed in television’s teething days. These pieces, along with Leoncavallo’s famous Vesti la giubba from Il Pagliacci and Bizet’s Flower Song from Carmen comprise the beating heart of this DVD. They show this magnificent singer fully in command of his vocal powers, although a bit stiff in his presentation. (He was a mediocre actor at best.) Incidentally interesting is the producer’s compulsion to include period ambiance. We get an advertisement for Firestone products and four numbers featuring the Voice of Firestone orchestra without Bjoerling, playing adumbrated versions of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 1, Tchaikovsky’s The Story of a Starry Night, etc. While these performances are historically interesting — no women musicians! — they made me hunger for more Bjorling. Other instances of Bjorling on film do exist (although not with the Voice of Firestone). Here are some minor annoyances: Why did they repeat those ditties If I Could Tell You and the Prayer of Thanksgiving? The video is about as good as you’d expect, considering that kinescope video is visually the equivalent of 78rpm records. Still, I give this DVD a marginal thumbs up for all my fellow Bjoerling fans, those who devour his work no matter where and what he sings. As my grandfather used to say, “I’d pay to hear him sing the telephone book.”
Death in Venice (1971)
Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Mark Burns, Bjorn Andresen, Silvana Mangano
Like many of the great Italian directors, Luchino Visconti has a particular feel to his films. At the start it takes a full six minutes before we hear any dialogue between the characters. The film’s soundtrack consists of selections from Mahler’s Third and Fifth Symphonies and it embodies the film with a unique passion emphasizing key moments throughout. There is huge attention paid to period detail, and between the music and lovely lyrical settings portrayed by the camera, it is easy to get caught up in the film. The best way to describe the camera technique is analogous to a painter with his brush—lavishing on rich colors on an empty palette.
Much of the film is communicated through images, direction, editing, and not specifically through dialogue. Occasionally Gustav will have a flashback, daydream, or flight of fantasy that will further develop his character for the viewer. But the most powerful moments are the scenes with the young boy that tell volumes of who Aschenback is. The pace is slow (especially compared to modern films), [and some viewers have felt that the screen images really exist only to illustrate the glorious music of Mahler on the soundtrack, which may be the best thing about the film. ..Ed.]
Voices of Concord Jazz – Live at Montreux (2004)
Studio: Concord Records
Tom Gibbs reviewed the CD version of this event last issue. For Concord’s 30th anniversary the jazz label gathered together seven of their finest jazz vocalists to appear at the prestigious Montreux Festival in Switzerland. It’s billed as the ultimate jazz vocal event and that isn’t totally hype. I’m frankly not heavily into jazz vocals, but I found it absolutely reviting and watched from start to finish. Actually the only vocalists of the group with whom I was completely familiar were Monica Mancini and Diane Schuur. It was great to get to know the work of others I had heard briefly or read about, including the cool young singer-pianist Peter Cincotti, and the petite and bouncy Karrin Allyson, whose recent audiophile LP is sitting here awaiting review.
The singers on stage at the festival are introduced by some travel-type footage shot around Montreux and the beautiful Lake Geneva. However, this is strangely very low-res home video quality while the onstage presentation is of the highest quality. But that’s certainly better than the other way ‘round. The singers appear in the order listed above – the first batch in intimate small-group situations. Both Allyson and Mancini have their own fine quartets; vibist Dave Samuels sits in with the latter. With Diane Schuur we switch to backing from the WDR (West German Radio) Big Band conducted by Tom Scott and things begin to ratchet up a notch or two. The concert also includes two great duets, matching up Schuur and Allyson on one and Mancini and Stigers on another. For the great finale we are treated to an ensemble performance by all the singers with the big band on How High the Moon. Groovy! And the surround mix is just right; put those fee up and arm yourself with some cheese or chocolate (or both) and pretend you’re there!
Here’s the singers and their songs: Cincotti: I Changed the Rules, Sway, Ain’t Misbehavin;’ Allyson: Moanin,’ Little Boat; Mancini: Charade, A Day in the Life of a Fool, Dreamsville (duet); Schuur: Deedle’s Blues, Stay Away from Bill (duet), Meet Me Midnight; Stigers: Swingin’ Down at 10th & Main, How Could a Man Take Such a Fall; Freelon: Better Than Anything, The Lady Sings the Blues, Out of This World; Austin: You’ll have to Swing It Mr. Paganini, Home Blues, How High the Moon; Ensemble: How High the Moon.
- John Henry
Jazz-It! – The Best of Jazz on TDK – Sampler
TDK has made available on DVDs a great variety of videos of many of the top jazz artists, shot from about 1983 to a couple years ago. The visual quality and lighting is pretty consistently high quality and that goes also for the sound – especially with the DTS option. The only gripe I have about the DVD is that most of the selections are faded out after about four minutes or so, and I had thought these were all complete items. However, it’s a great way to sample what TDK has available and which ones you might want to pick up the individual DVDs on. Right off I want the MJQ, Corea & Burton, and the Paco de Lucia Group.
Things get underway with the West Coast All Stars in Walkin’ – featuring Conte Candoli on trumpet, Teddy Edwards on tenor sax and Pete Jolly on piano. Herbie Hancock’s trio with Ron Carter on bass next do Toys. Lionel Hampton is heard in How High the Moon with a terrific lineup of all stars, including Clark Terry, Benny Golson, Harry Sweets Edison, and Junior Mance. Blues March is a standard with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and that who play it on their cut. Bag’s Groove is the Modern Jazz Quartet on theirs, and Stan Getz is heard in his final concert recording with a sextet featuring Kenny Barron on piano in El Cahon. Oscar Peterson plays a selection from his Easter Suite for Jazz Trio, and Mendocino is the track from drummer Billy Cobham’s Glass Menagerie. We see and hear the jazz violin giant Stephane Grappelli in Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm in l991 and Gary Burton appears the first of two times with pianist Makoto Ozone in Monk’s Dream.
The Dave Holland Quintet does World Protection Blues, and from a DVD titled A Very Special Concert we hear Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White in Why Wait. The oldest video here (1983) is Gil Evans (fits cause the cat always looked so old…) and his orchestra in Variations on the Misery. The Herbie Hancock Trio plays Just One of Those Things from their disc and the avant group ESP 2 plays a strangely disjointed version of Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee. Vibist Burton returns with Chick Corea for Monk’s Four In One. Guitarist Terje Rypdal with percussionist Trilok Gurtu does Baba, and Eliane Elias plays The Way You Look Tonight with her trio and looks really smashing doing so. Whew! Another fine pianist, Ahmad Jamal, plays My Foolish Heart with his trio, Playa del Carmen is sampled for us by guitarist Paco de Lucia and his group. The German ensemble The Band from Utopia does a number from their Tribute to the Music of Frank Zappa, Bobbie McFerrin gives us some of his amazing improvisations, matching vocal chords with Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker, the closer to the sampler is McCoy Tyner in a piano solo on Coltrane’s Naima.
- John Henry
Joe Cocker : Live Across From Midnight (2004)
Studio: Eagle Rockframe
Songs Included: Could You Be Loved; Feeling Alright; Have a Little Faith; Up Where We Belong; You Can Leave Your Hat On; When The Night Comes; N’Oubliez Jamais; Summer In The City; You Are So Beautiful; Into The Mystic; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Delta Lady; The Letter; Unchain My Heart; With A Little Help From My Friends; Across From Midnight; Cry Me A River.
DEVO — Live In the Land of the Rising Sun (2003)
Studio: Music Video Distributors
The multichannel mix on this disc primarily consists of mixing the two channel information into the rear channels giving a big matrix-like sound. Songs included: That’s Good; Girl U Want; Whip It; Satisfaction; Uncontrollable Urge; Mongoloid; Blockhead; Jocko Homo; Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA; Gut Feeling/Slap Yer Mammy; Gates of Steel; Freedom of Choice; Come Back Jonee.
Show: A Night in the Life of Matchbox Twenty (2004)
Studio: Lippman Entertainment
The documentary covers the band members talking about the tour, fans and music, the tour bus, and other people involved in the production. It’s done in a very casual way, so most of the video feels like you are following band members around while they speak their mind. It paints the picture the band members are just a bunch of everyday guys who enjoy playing music. Songs Included: Cold; Real World; All I Need; Soul; Disease; Could I Be You; 3AM; Mad Season; Feel; Hand Me Down; If You’re gone; Bright Lights; Bent; Unwell; Back to Good; Downfall; You’re So Real; So Sad So Lonely; Long Day; Push.