David Smith | Penn Valley, PA USA | 04/25/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)
"These are two short films. Neither has a strong point of view, neither adds very much understanding to how a conductor might interpret Mahler. I got through them as a public service not for any enjoyment. There are much, much better DVDs dealing with the subject of the meaning of music and the conductors art. Save your money, don't buy this one"
Some rather good and some not so good
Philippe Vandenbroeck | HEVERLEE, BELGIUM | 02/03/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD features two documentary movies that focus on the music of Gustav Mahler. In the first, film maker Frank Scheffer took the 1995 Mahler festival in Amsterdam as an opportunity to observe and listen to five different conductors during their rehearsals for the festival performances. The result of that effort is, on the whole, illuminating and a pleasure to look at. What is perhaps most interesting is not what these conductors have to say about Mahler's music, but the differences in their intellectual and musical approaches. The most intellectually articulate conductor amongst the five is Riccardo Chailly, then chief-conductor with the Amsterdam-based Concertgebouw Orchestra (hosting the festival). His is clearly a very analytical mind that is able to weave musical, biographical and broadly cultural elements in an encompassing vision on Mahler's work. For example, I found his discussion on Mahler's Eight - focusing on the belcanto elements in the score - imaginative and plausible.
His countryman Claudio Abbado is very much his opposite. Scheffer's interview with Abbado yields no startling revelations at all. The conductor sticks to very general, even bland assertions. But Abbado does this in a exceedingly modest, almost shy manner which is oddly attractive. And what a difference when he is on stage! Scheffer's close ups of the conductors in rehearsal not only make visual sense but they also reveal something very intimate about these people's experiences of the music. Abbado appears enormously focused and authoritative (without in the least being authoritarian). Clearly he has fully internalised this music and is able to transmit that vision to the musicians with startling economy of words.
The third Italian is Riccardo Muti, who is not obviously known as one of the great contemporary Mahler conductors. Nevertheless, his brief insights on Mahler's Fourth symphony - the only work he conducted at the festival - are very articulate and certainly put the work in a new light to me.
On the other hand, I was slightly disappointed by Bernard Haitink's contribution. As longstanding conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra and a respected Mahler-interpreter he played an important role at the event, conducting the Second, Sixth symphonies, Das Lied and the Adagio of the Tenth. It seemed to me Haitink is more of a technician who has a very down to earth conception of Mahler and his music. It's much more rewarding to hear him conduct a Mahler symphony than to listen to him talking about it.
Simon Rattle, still quite young in 1995, filled the final gap with Mahler's Seventh. To be frank, I have never fallen for Rattle's conception of Mahler and his appearance in the movie is thankfully brief. The few shots of Rattle in rehearsal do, however, transmit something of the energy he brings on stage (but that doesn't make me like his performances any better). On the whole this is a welcome, speedy traversal of Mahler's (almost) complete output in the sumptuous setting of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and with top orchestras and conductors to guide us. I certainly enjoyed that.
The second film - "I have lost touched with the world" - is rather less rewarding. And that's a pity as it deals with one of Mahler's most visionary works, his Ninth symphony. The whole movie looks a bit like an afterthought to me. Scheffer put it together on the occasion of Chailly's valedictory performance with his Concertgebouw Orchestra. Chailly's survey of this work is rather hurried, offering some startling insights along the way (I never noticed the Kindertotenlieder quote on the very final page of the Adagio). The trouble is that Scheffer found it necessary to have Mahler's chief contemporary biographer - Henry-Louis de la Grange - comment on each of the symphony's individual movements. de la Grange is very much entrenched in the biographical school, linking each element in the score to actual circumstances in the composer's life. I think this leads to a very speculative and superficial conception of the music. For example, the assertion that with the Ninth's Scherzo Mahler wanted to provide a riposte to his critics, is not convincing and doesn't help us to understand this music any better at all. Chailly is much more nuanced here. For example, regarding the Kindertotenlieder quote in the Finale, he holds that this helps us to capture the mood of these final pages rather than that it links back to a specific event in Mahler's life. I can buy into that. So I could have done with a lot more Chailly and much less de la Grange talking about this work. At the end of the film, we hear Chailly cast his mind back on his years with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and his assessment is surprisingly candid. Apparently their time together had not been without friction. Sadly Scheffer doesn't dig deeper into that. On the whole this movie didn't make a big impression on me. A little bit of a missed opportunity.
Four stars for "Conducting Mahler" and two stars for "I have lost touch with the world "."
Two films about Mahler? Or Chailly?
Linda McDougall | Guanajuato, Mexico | 06/28/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Having been a Mahler fanatic most of my long life, I highly recommend this wonderfully instructive DVD, and I can't say anything better than what the sensitive Scott Morrison writes (I love your commentaries, Mr. Morrison).
However, and with utmost respect for Frank Scheffer's genius and love of music, I started to wonder if Richard Chailly had funded the project!
I work closely with classical musicians, have a string quintet, and an extensive collection of DVDs on conductors, composers and concerts (I praise the gods for Paul Smaczny and EuroArts). I love to watch the conductors from the musicians' point of view - the beauty of being given a choice between cameras, such as Smaczny does with Abbado's Beethoven series, is not only enlightening, but magical.
But this time, I thought I'd scream if I had to watch one more minute of Chailly's face instead of other musicians and/or instruments. Yes, he's a wonderful conductor, a great mind - but the extreme close-ups of his face dominate for long stretches of time without a break. His expressions just aren't that interesting while conducting - and he's not making the music: the musicians are.
There are far less close-ups of the other conductors so that the imbalance is obvious.
I knew my opinion would be unpopular, but I felt the DVD, the second film especially, was more about Chailly than Mahler - which is fine, but the title should indicate this. Mind you, I've had trouble with Karajan's videos as well for the same reason. No matter how famous the soloist, Karajan's closed-eyed presence is in your face, covering one's view of the players far more than is necessary.
Claudio Abbado, Simon Rattle, and yes, the lovely Bernard Haitink, may not please as many as do those conductors with overblown egos...but they touch our hearts in a way the others don't. Just talk to the players who work with them.
I certainly did not feel that the prodigious Professor de la Grange was out of place. He worships Mahler and no one has ever delved deeper into the troubled heart of the composer - certainly not that most indifferent of musicologists, Donald Mitchell. (Why do people keep quoting him?)
After expressing my resentment, I STILL highly recommend the DVD - anyone who loves Mahler deserves to learn even more - and yes, even from Richard Chailly, who, after all, adores and fully understands the composer."
Gustav Mahler: a remarkable genius we still learn from
Mr John Haueisen | WORTHINGTON, OHIO United States | 07/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can't improve on the excellent review by Scott Morrison other than to suggest that this is just the DVD for those who like to attend concert rehearsals, those who enjoy enlightened discussions of music, or simply those who love everything Mahler.
The first of these Frank Scheffer films steps into the world of concert rehearsals of conductors who really enjoy interpreting and better-understanding the works of Mahler. We see Bernard Haitink's occasionaly jerky, brusque, and sometimes even jovial conducting, and later we hear Simon Rattle tell of his first Mahler experience as a ten-year-old: his friends could tell he was a changed lad.
The second half features Ricardo Chailly and renowned Mahler scholar, Henry-Louis de La Grange, as they analyze Mahler's music with special attention to the ninth symphony. I don't think I'm spoiling anything to state that de La Grange argues forcefully against those who would suggest that Mahler was neurotic. Certainly no one who could survive a decade at the helm of the Vienna Opera, while at the same time writing some of the most inventive and evocative music ever--such a man was truly remarkable--and that's what this film is about. We're still learning from Mahler today."