A Bit Too Adoring for My Taste, But It Has Some Good Moments
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 09/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This prize-winning documentary by the noted music documentarian Paul Smaczny from 2004 comes very close to a hagiography of Claudio Abbado. There are some very high-toned elements -- among them quotations (read by Bruno Ganz, the wonderful Swiss actor) of poetry by Hölderlin, a favorite of Abbado's, accompanied by dreamy landscapes -- as well as some wonderful, simply wonderful musical excerpts, usually too short. Abbado is notoriously shy of interviews and yet there are a number of clips of him talking with an unseen interviewer. The problem, though, is that he doesn't reveal very much in them. Far more revealing are the comments from colleagues like the young British conductor Daniel Harding, and members or former members of the Berliner Philharmoniker such as violist Wolfram Christ, oboist Albrecht Mayer, concertmaster Kolja Blacher. Still, their comments come close to being fluff -- how democratic Abbado is (in comparison to his unnamed predecessor, Karajan), how he wants to be called 'Claudio,' not 'Maestro,' how he enjoys making music, and so on. The most valuable comments, actually, and there are a lot of them, come from Abbado's friend Ganz who actually describes Abbado's platform behavior and his conducting technique. (I will add the Harding also comments that Abbado has 'the most beautiful left hand in the world.')
By far the most valuable parts of this 67-minute film are the clips of performances (with several orchestras including the ones he currently works with a lot, the Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra) of music by Dvorák, Mahler, Debussy, Nono, Webern, Stravinsky, Brahms, Beethoven, et al. The title of the documentary seems to be taken from Abbado's comment, in response to a question about what audiences he likes best, that he loves the audiences that hold their applause after the quiet ending of a piece, and an example is shown in a clip of an extraordinarily long such silence after a performance of the Brahms Requiem. (One can't help but notice, though, that the silence is at least partly in response to Abbado's frozen stance, head bowed, eyes closed, at the end of the piece. Applause starts only after he makes a move to relax a bit.)
There are some fascinating glimpses of the young Abbado from the 1960s conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and talking with the doyen of Austrian music announcers, Marcel Prawy, and including the well-known anecdote about how Abbado and his fellow-student Zubin Mehta got to watch rehearsals of the VPO under great conductors by joining the orchestra's chorus.
I found myself just a tad embarrassed by the unrelentingly adoring tone of this documentary; others might not react so. Frankly, as I consider Abbado to be one of the greatest conductors alive, I would prefer to spend my money on his recordings and DVDs of performances of great music, the latter, particularly those from the Lucerne Festival, seeming to be coming out almost monthly these days.
What a Human Being!
Inquiring Mind | 08/01/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Though I have not looked at this DVD recently, the memory lingers on of this director's ability to bring together a potentially unruly group of highly talented musicians. (For those of you who have performed, is it not so?) His knowledge and unassuming leadership bring the orchestra into a cooperative whole which together with him act as a conduit from...which leaves us joyful and our spirits lifted. The various musicians and commentators bear this out in their reports which exhibit their respect and love of this conductor. For all people this DVD speaks to us of the good side of our humanity, and you will appreciate even more the talents of Claudio Abbado and by example see a role model that will hopefully affect your own life and your appreciation of what it takes to make music."
A Kind, Coaxing, Conductor
Mr John Haueisen | WORTHINGTON, OHIO United States | 03/09/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a portrait of conductor Claudio Abbado.
I wouldn't call it a biography, as it doesn't follow his childhood, his travels, and high points in his career. No, it's much more a picture for us of what kind of man, and what kind of conductor he is.
Through comments by musicians and his associates, as well as many glimpses of rehearsals over the years, we are presented with an impression of this unique conductor. Where some conductors become almost tyrants, beating their orchestras into submissive instruments for themselves, Abbado has a way of coaxing them to play his way. Rather than make demands, he asks them to listen to each other, and become part of the whole.
As one of the musicians puts it, he makes you feel as if you're free to play a piece absolutely any way that you choose--but he's already made you desire to be part of his orchestra, playing the way Abbado wants it to sound. Perhaps it's rather like a teacher you may remember, who got you to do more than you thought you could, not by screaming at you, but by encouraging you, and making you want to do better.
A highlight of this portrait is showing how, at the peak of his power, Abbado chose to leave the Berlin Philharmonic--perhaps the supreme conducting position in the world. Another is the description of his renewed vitality and youthful outlook, following a diagnosis and operation in the year 2000 for stomach cancer.
Scott Morrison's review is correct in the remark that sometimes this "portrait" appears a bit cloying--too dripping with praise for Claudio Abbado. But considering how talented, sweet, and appreciative of life that this man is, it's not surprising that so many can't help but praise him so enthusiastically."