Sun, Oct 09, 2011 - Page 14 News List

Classical DVD and CD reviews

The Art of Chopin, Piotr Anderszewski: Unquiet Traveler, Wagner’s Mastersinger, Hitler’s Siegfried and Shostakovich Symphony No. 8

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing Reporter

The Art of Chopin / A film by Gerard Caillat With Garrick Ohlsson / EuroArts 3078948

Documentaries about classical music are valuable in at least two ways — as routes into a musical world for newcomers, and as insights behind the scenes of the more formal concerts and recordings for old hands. Three documentaries, all interesting in their different ways, illustrate the phenomenon.

The Art of Chopin was produced for the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth last year and is a sort of potted biography illustrated by clips from high-profile modern performances. Thus you see in action Yvgeny Kissin, Krystian Zimerman, Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini, Yuja Wang, Bella Davidovich, Ivo Pogorelich, Murray Perahia, and more, all looking very young, plus Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter. It’s a little bit of a supermarket trolley, you feel, but marvelous for all that.

Continuity is provided by the American pianist Garrick Ohlsson, who won the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in 1970. He explains how Chopin expanded the possibilities of the piano, and at the same time combined a deep-rooted classicism with the new Romantic sensibility. A bonus disc has Ohlsson playing the two Chopin piano concertos with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.

More memorable, however, is a film by Bruno Monsaingeon about another famous Polish musical figure, the pianist Piotr Anderszewski. You see him crossing Poland by train in winter, with a piano on board. He talks and plays, and in the process you get some way into the mind of this most introspective of artists.

Mozart turns out to represent his pinnacle of sensibility, and in one instance resolves for him a philosophical paradox. How could anyone express such profound feeling with such lightness of touch, he asks. And to hear him singing passages from The Magic Flute while playing a piano version of the orchestral accompaniment, exploding into ecstasies of wonder as he does so, is thrilling indeed.

But Anderszewski is anyway big on paradoxes. Poland is the Slavic soul in an impeccably cut French suit. The more you master something, the freer you are. And a barcarolle by Chopin is like a drunken gondolier, yet so beautiful (though elsewhere he proclaims he can only play Chopin in small doses).

This DVD, titled Piotr Anderszewski: Unquiet Traveler, is full of memorable phrases (plus phrases you sometimes think are meant to be memorable).

You see Anderszewski rehearsing a concerto by Brahms — once his favorite composer, and maybe he’ll come back to him one day — with Gustavo Dudamel. But Mozart! Ah, Mozart is life itself.

Thirdly there’s a very interesting DVD from Medici Arts about the Wagnerian tenor Max Lorenz. It’s called Wagner’s Mastersinger, Hitler’s Siegfried and centers on the 1930s in Bayreuth, the theater Wagner had built specifically for the performance of his operas. The artists who worked there were a mixed lot and included a fair share of gays and men and women of Jewish descent. They didn’t display much interest in politics, but the problem was that Hitler, unlike almost all his fellow Nazis, was a major fan, and attended performances rather frequently.

The leading Wagnerian tenor there was Max Lorenz, but his wife was Jewish and he was, in addition, something of a closet gay. Both these things could have spelled disaster under the Nazis, and indeed Lorenz was put on trial on one occasion for homosexual activity. On another, the SS arrived at their home to question his wife. But such was Lorenz’s celebrity, and Hitler’s enthusiasm for Wagnerian opera, that Hitler ordered the gay-related trail to be stopped, and Goering told the SS by phone from Berlin to leave Lorenz’s wife alone.

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