Interesting but slightly superficial
Jacques COULARDEAU | OLLIERGUES France | 03/04/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Rather disappointing on an extremely important subject : music under Stalin, music in the narrowly controlled autocratic and technocratic soviet branch of socialism. It sure proves one point: the control the Stalinist communist party in the USSR imposed on arts in general and music in particular. But this does not explain why the USSR produced a tremendous proportion of top musicians, composers and conductors in the world in the whole 20th century. What made the USSR so dynamic and creative in music in spite of the totalitarian brand of socialism they developed? Does music need challenge to such a point that it cannot prosper if it is not under a stress artificially created by the hardship of life imposed from a-high in society, a stress that can be political, social, emotional, economic or whatever. The stress is the inspiring element. That's the idea that emerges from this documentary because of the absence of real investigation of the question. The documents quoted here are essential to understand this period of the world's cultural history. Yet the best part remains the sections in which the director explores the job of a conductor, his psyche and his vision of himself, the music, his mission and his task as concerned by the audience. An interesting documentary though probably not deep enough on the historical exploration of soviet cultural history.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
Fascinating portrait of the noted Russian conductor
Mr. Louis Blois | New York | 03/17/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
Bruno Monsaingeon's two films, "Red Button" and "Gennady Rozhdestvensky: Conductor or Conjurer?" are contained on this DVD.
"Red Button" is built around two extensive interviews with two of the prominent Russian conductors of the past half century, Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Rudolph Barshai. It features ongoing interviews with these men about their experiences during the postwar years of artistic repression in the SU. It contains numerous personal accounts and personal revelations that will at times even surprise the viewer who will already be familiar with the abhorrent events of the Zhdanov era and its aftermath. But here it is, recounted by the luminaries who actually were there to suffer its consequences.
The film includes fascinating file footage of Dmitri Shostakovich reading prepared texts at one of the public pony shows, and later, all too briefly, a shot of him in animated conversation with Rozhdesetvensky at a rehearsal of one of his works. We also see a youngish Tikhon Khrennikov delivering an address in his impassioned style, singing the praises of Stalin's draconian policies on the arts. We later see him accompanying himself on the piano to one of his folksy songs ("Alioka"?); and we also see a snip of the elder Khrennikov proclaiming that his intentions during his leadership years were ultimately for the protection of his fellow composers. This is followed by contradictory remarks by Rozhdestvensky, including a recounting of Khrennikov's wiley attempts at preventing Alfred Schnittke's First Symphony from receiving a performance.
The second film portrays Rozhdestvensky as a highly charismatic fellow, full of humor as well as a rich and articulate store of musical insight. It is particularly revealing in showing his podium style, both in informal and formal settings. We eavesdrop on a master class in which he offers advice and commentary to a handful of young conducting students. One of the extras on the DVD features a performance in front of an audience of Rozhdestvensky's own arrangement of a suite based on Schnittke's "Dead Souls" movie score. The hilarious theatrics that take place between Rozhdestvensky and Viktoria Postnikova, both in between and during serious music making, are worthy of the name Victor Borge and are unforgettable.
Fascinating DVD. Wish I had access to a DVD that contained *only* file footage of what was seen in all
to brief passing on this production -- Shostakovich in rehearsal, Prokofiev speaking and performing at the
piano, and not least, B&W footage of a riveting performance of one of Prokofiev's piano concerti with
a very young and totally brilliant Viktoria Postnikova and Mr Rozhdestvensky."
Dean R. Brierly | Studio City, CA | 04/06/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The two documentaries on this disc paint a vivid picture of musical life during the 70 years of dictatorial Soviet rule. "The Red Baton" focuses on the doctrine of Socialist Realism to which artists in all media were expected to adhere. For musicians, this meant creating works that did not exhibit so-called "formalist" elements such as dissonance and atonality. Those who deviated from the party line were dealt with harshly, including public censure by the government-controlled media and the banning of many of their works. The film relies on the oral history of two key personalities who lived through many of the events: famed conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and viola player Rudolf Barshai. Much of their testimony revolves around the notorious 1948 Congress of the Union of Soviet Composers, during which Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich and others were savagely denounced by Tikhon Khrennikov, leader of the composers union and widely perceived as a lackey of the ruling elite. Their remembrances are moving and tragic, although Rozhdestvensky also finds a measure of black humor in the hypocrisy and madness of the era. It's a fascinating document, but at 55 minutes is too short to really do justice to its subject, and doesn't account for the staggering amount of brilliant work achieved during those dark decades. The second film, "Gennadi Rozhdestvensky: Conductor or Conjuror?" is a less political, more personal look at the day-to-day business of music making, as the famous maestro is shown in his varied roles as conductor, performer, philosopher and mentor. Less ambitious than "The Red Baton," it's ultimately a more successful documentary, enlivened by Rozhdestvensky's down to earth charisma and sardonic humor."