More exciting than the first volume, but still only 50 minut
Christopher Culver | 04/20/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"RHYTHM is the second episode of Sir Simon Rattle's "Leaving Home", a television programme introducing 20th century orchestral music. We go between the brief lectures of Rattle, seated at a piano, and excepts from various pieces in performance by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rattle. While the first episode introduced the expansion of tonality in early 20th century Vienna, here Rattle celebrates the exploration of musical pulse.
Rattle begins with a sensible starting point, Stravinsky's wild "Le Sacre du Printemps". Edgar Varese's "Ionisaton" is given as an example of how the changing landscape of the modern world, with its automobiles and skyscrapers, inspired new forms of composition. One of Conlon Nancarrow's pieces for player piano shows how technology can aid the composer towards new rhythmic possibilities when merely human performers would immediately tire out. Steve Reich's "Music for Pieces of Wood" shows African inspiration, while Pierre Boulez's "Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna" updates the funeral dirge to serialist complexity. The treatment of two pieces, however, stands out. Rattle asserts that Ligeti's "Atmospheres", far from being a formless mass as is often perceived, is really an ingenious collection of many varied rhythmic experiments. This greatly expanded my appreciation of Ligeti's earliest micropolyphonic work. The last work discussed on the album is Olivier Messiaen's "Turangalila-Symphony", where the composer took everything he ever learned about Indian rhythms and applied it in the most exhuberant fashion. The shots of CBSO performing this, with Jeanne Loriod on ondes martenot and Peter Donohoe on piano, are quite exciting.
This is less well-known material than on the first volume, so even one who's listened to this sort of music for a little while already may learn new things here. For total neophytes, this would be all very enlightening and Rattle continues to use relatively innocuous music that wouldn't scare the viewer away. Nonetheless, RHYTHMX contains further downsides common to all DVDs in the series. While music is being played, the scene goes between instrumentalists performing and stock footage of whatever the producers thought would be good; for example, while a portion of Messiaen goes on, we get interspliced footage of fireworks. Besides looking somewhat goofy, I feel that this forces a single interpretation on the listener, when in reality instrumental music can mean anything one likes. And the decision to put only a single episode on each DVD, charging the usual ArtHaus rate for just fifty minutes of video, is outrageous. Even getting the seven volumes together in the boxset doesn't save one much, and I think that this is a sensible purchase more for libraries than individuals. The only bonus material consists of biographies of the composers (little more than what one would find in a common encyclopedia) and a music track with Messiaen's "Turangalila". One should think carefully before acquiring the DVD.
Still, I suppose that RHYTHM and other entries in the "Leaving Home" series could be a good buy for fans of contemporary music who want loved ones to find the same pleasure in new music that they do. And fans of Ligeti may appreciate the new perspective on "Atmospheres"."