JEAN SIBELIUS - The Early Years. Maturity & Silence -
A film by Christopher Nupen
MENOTTI: Help, Help, the Globolinks
BARENBOIM ON BEETHOVEN - Complete Piano Sonatas/Masterclasses
Christopher Nupen's film on the life of Jean Sibelius is a magnificent achievement. It's in two parts: The Early Years and Maturity and Silence. This is an informative examination of the composer and his life through his letters and diaries as well as words of his wife of 64 years, Aino, who was faithfully at his side through all of his varied struggles. There are many fascinating photographs, and performances of some of the composer's music are given by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting, along with soprano Elisabeth Soderstrom and violinist Boris Belkin. Those who love music of Sibelius should not miss this important release.
Gian Carlo Menotti wrote both the music and libretto for his "space-age opera for children and all those still young at heart." Help, Help the Globolinks was premiered by the Hamburg State Opera in 1968 to considerable critical acclaim, and this video studio film was made the following year. In this 70-minute opera, an alien life form, the Globolinks, appear on earth to attack a small town and the only way to stop them is to play music. Characters are Emily, the young girl who plays the violin; Madame Euterpova, the music teacher; Dr. Stone, Dean of St. Paul's School; Tony, the bus driver; Timothy, the school janitor; Miss Penelope Newkirk, the mathematics teacher; Mr. Lavender-Gas, the literature professor, and Dr. Turtlespit, the science professor. Electronic effects in this film made four decades ago are very tame by today's standards, but effective in their dated way, and Menotti's music is very accessible. HHTG is sung in German, but there are English, French and Spanish subtitles. The mono sound is fine.
EMI is to be congratulated for their huge six DVD set Barenboim on Beethoven. We see the distinguished pianist playing all 32 sonatas recorded during a series of eight concerts that took place in the summer of 2005 at the Berlin State Opera House. Barenboim has recorded the complete set twice before (as well as an extraordinary set of all of the concertos recorded in 1967 with Otto Klemperer conducting). Barenboim is a totally honest performer, low on histrionics, and now we have the privilege of watching him perform the complete set before an appreciative audience, with cameras always in the right place, and audio that beautifully captures the sound of the piano in a resonant hall. For many, prime interest here will be the fascinating series of masterclasses in which Barenboim works with six young pianists: Saleem Abboud Ashkar, Alessio Bax, Jonathan Biss, David Kacouch, Lang Lang (on his best behavior, fortunately), and Shai Wosner, with almost an hour devoted to each artist. The small audience for these masterclasses consisted primarily of piano teachers and students. Beautifully packaged and produced, this is an essential issue beautifully realized.
R.E.B. (April 2007)