BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92. TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo
and Juliet Overture-Fantasy.
'LE SACRE DU PRINTEMPS" - A silent movie by Oliver Herrmann to the music
of Igor Stravinsky
BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
Any video of Leopold Stokowski is important, and here we have him filmed on unspecified dates in 1969 conducting Orchestra Giovanile Internazionale—the International Youth Orchestra in St. Moritz—in Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, and Orchestra della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana in Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. What a master conductor he was! Even with lesser orchestras he was able to achieve his unique sound, particularly obvious in the Tchaikovsky. This is a Romeo and Juliet unlike any other - Stokowski has reorchestrated at will, especially noticeable in the opening bars. He also uses his own transcendant soft ending. The black and white photography is basic for its time and there are many close-ups of Stoky at work. The Beethoven is heard via rather poor monophonic sound, the Tchaikovsky "benefits from the discovery of a stereo soundtrack" (according to DVD notes), but this stereo is muddy and not always coordinated with the performance. Still, this is a DVD of great interest.
(NOTE: I've been informed by Edward Johnson, master of Stokowskian information, that Romeo and Juliet was filmed in the Swiss-Italian Television Studios, Lugano, Switzerland, August 7,1968 (along with Kurt Leimer's 2nd Piano Concerto, the composer as soloist, unfortunately not on VAI's DVD). Actual TV transmission took place October 28, 1968. For this VAI DVD, instead of the original mono TV soundtrack, they've superimposed the simultaneous stereo recording of the Tchaikovsky which was issued on an Ermitage CD (ERM 139) in 1993—which accounts for the lack of coordination. Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 was filmed in St. Moritz, Switzerland, August 30, 1969. The concert began with the Bach-Stokowski Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, followed by Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 with Maria Isabella de Carli as soloist, after which Stokowski conducted Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. The Beethoven 7th was the second half of the concert.The Bach and Mozart items appeared on a short-lived Swiss-made stereo LP at the time, a kind of 'souvenir' for the players
I thoroughly enjoyed Walt Disney's treatment of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in Fantasia. He showed incredible imagination in his tale of prehistoric life, and his approach worked. This new film based on Stravinsky's masterpiece is a bizarre oddity—a silent movie by Oliver Herrmann "to the music of Igor Stravinsky." It is not a ballet presentation of the score (that would have been far more valuable). In the film, God is a black woman working in her kitchen (she is never seen above the waist) creating new life forms: three unhappy people who cannot deal with life and are self-destructive. After a solar eclipse they find themselves on a tropical island where varied religious rituals are practiced by many odd characters. God watches her experiment through a telescope. That's the end. The film was made at enormous expense. Herrmann wanted the premiere to be accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Rattle—an event that took place in September 2003 at the 54th Berlin Festival shortly after Herrmann's death at the age of 40. Rattle apparently was highly enthusiastic about the project which he discusses in a lengthy interview. There also are interviews with the actors, scenes during production, and a detailed storyboard of Herrmann's plot. Video quality of the film is first-rate, audio, even though advertised as 5.l surround, is decidedly inadequate. One might expect this DVD to include a complete concert performance of The Rite of Spring, but it is not to be found. Avant-garde film buffs doubtless will find someting of value here—I don't plan to watch it again.
This site has just mentioned Opus Arte's issue of Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache's concert performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 (see REVIEW). Here's another in the series, Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique in a concert recorded in 1969, a rather placid interpretation that whips up to a frenzy in the final pages. The orchestra is not world-class, black and white photography is satisfactory, the mono sound adequate. One might wonder why Opus Arte issued this by itself; easily both it and the Bruckner could have been accommodated on a single DVD.
R.E.B. (June 2007)