Covers quite a bit, but still only fifty minutes of video, a
Christopher Culver | 06/17/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"COLOUR is the third 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, and the second episode dealt with rhythm, here Rattle covers the exploration of timbre.
For Rattle, an ideal starting point is Debussy, whose "Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune" displays a formless mass on colour much like the Impressionist school of painting. Stravinsky ("Firebird Suite") and Ravel ("Daphnis et Chloe") are also shown as early pioneers, and even Schoenberg is recognized as a contributor with his "Five Orchestral Pieces" op. 16. The coverage of post-war composers and their works, however, is not entirely sensible. The piano version of the first of Boulez's "Notations" is played on piano by Rattle, and then the orchestral version is performed. While full of glittery colour, it's a very languid piece that might not catch the interest of one curious but skeptical about modern-classical music. "Notations II", with its drive and power would have been a better choice. Olivier Messiaen is featured again, with his "Et expecto resurrectioned mortuorum", but it's not an entirely convincing choice, and Messiaen already got enough attention on Vol. 2. Toru Takemitsu's "Dream/Window" is the last piece featured. This is a fantastic piece, and a fine example of exploiting timbre to the max, but Rattle talks over the piece's crucial opening bars, and by the time we get to video footage of the orchestra playing it, it's too late to really get the music.
What's noticeably missing from the episode are any pieces by the spectralist composers, who really put timbre at the forefront by dissecting notes into overtones and integrating computer technology with composition. Something by Murail or Saariaho would have made this a much more reliable document of 20th-century orchestral music. However, when the episode was filmed in 1996, it was a tad bit too early for the spectralists to be known as a major force, and so the episode shows its age. COLOUR 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 Debussy goes on, this piece about a fawn is accompanied by absurd slow-motion footage of white horses rushing across a river. Besides looking somewhat goofy, I feel that this forces a single interpretation on the listener in pieces like Schoenberg's, which can really 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 COLOUR 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 putting Boulez and Takemitsu in there with more familiar material like Debussy is an ingenious trick for which Rattle should be praised."