There are two films here. The first, ‘Conducting Mahler,’ features long segments showing several eminent Mahler conductors — Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Riccardo Chailly, Bernard Haitink and Simon Rattle — rehearsing the likes of the Royal Concertgebouw, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, in long, lovely passages from all the Mahler symphonies (plus some of ‘Das Lied von der Erde’) interspersed with interviews (with the noted music writer, Donald Mitchell) with all five of the conductors. Not only is the music-making first class, but the insights that the conductors bring to the process, both in their conducting and in their thoughts about Mahler and his music, are exceedingly stimulating. (It should be noted, by the way, that the interviews are conducted in English and each of the conductors is enormously articulate.) The DVD is divided into a number of ‘chapters’ (although the documentary plays without pause) such as ‘Mahler and the Concertgebouw’ (the film was made mostly at the 1995 Mahler Festival held by the Concertgebouw which was, of course, the first orchestra outside Vienna to program Mahler’s music with any regularity owing to the enthusiasm of Willem Mengelberg), ‘The Interpretation of the Conductors,’ ‘The Modernity of Mahler,’ ‘The Ideas Behind the Notes,’ ‘The Sound of an Empire at the End,’ ‘Vienna at the Turn of the Century’ and so on.
The second film, entitled ‘I Have Lost Touch With the World’ (the Englished title of Mahler’s heart-wrenching song ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ from the ‘Rückert Lieder’) is about Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, his last completed symphony. It features Riccardo Chailly rehearsing the Concertgebouw. There is almost constant music — sometimes showing the orchestra playing or, more often, Chailly conducting and commenting to the players, and sometimes with voice-over while the music continues underneath. There are extensive and extremely insightful commentaries concerning all four movements from Henry-Louis de la Grange, Mahler’s definitive biographer, a man who probably knows more about the composer than anyone, and from Chailly. There are snippets from other works, including a large part of a performance, unusually with a baritone (Thomas Hampson), of the ‘Abschied’ from ‘Das Lied von der Erde.’ (For me, at the end of that performance the earth stood still.) Fully ten minutes of the fourth movement is played without interruption (in a dress rehearsal with audience) and I found myself in tears at its conclusion. There is a reference after that to the impending departure of Chailly from the musical directorship of the orchestra after sixteen years; the film was made in 2004 and he has since been succeeded by Mariss Jansons.
Scheffer is a marvelous documentarian. Although the camerawork is fairly active, the focus is primarily, in both films, on the conductors and the music. Sound is magnificent, particularly in the more recent film. It is in Dolby Digital 2.0. … Total time for both films is 132 minutes.
I heartily recommend this DVD to anyone with even a smidgen of interest in Mahler or in rehearsal technique in general. These are superior films. [Scott Morrison]
These two Frank Scheffer documentaries really bring home what works best for classical music on DVD. Videoed concerts, to my mind, seldom add much to the experience of audio only and are certainly no substitute for the real live experience – we are always too much at the director’s whim for close-ups of puffing or sawing musicians or of every pore on a rapt conductor’s face. Opera works better, but again, the constricted format is no substitute for the real thing and in the opera house (as in the concert hall) one’s eyes move subconsciously all over the place, constantly taking in different elements of the hall, the performers and the performance.
Both these documentaries include a high proportion of concert performances of the Mahler symphonies, but it is all directed to a different end. The first, Conducting Mahler, is about exactly what it says on the tin. It is about the views of five eminent Mahler conductors on their craft and on the facets of the composer and his music that they look to elucidate in their performances. And their views are illustrated by substantial excerpts from live renditions of all the Mahler symphonies with three of the orchestras that the composer himself knew well, all given at the Mahler Festival in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in 1995. What makes these performance extracts different from the usual filmed concert is that they remain fixed for practically the whole time on the conductor’s face – no extraneous cutting about the various instrumentalists, no views of architecture of the hall. If I have one quibble with the film it is that these close-ups are just a bit too tight: all we really see are the conductors’ faces and we get no real chance to watch their stick technique to see how they beat what are often quite complicated rhythmic structures, how they employ rubato or how they communicate Mahler’s frequent abrupt changes of tempo and time signature. A shame, because in all other respects this is a fascinating documentary, really enhancing our knowledge of Mahler and his music as well as of the conductors and their different approaches to him.
The second documentary, I Have Lost Touch with the World (an evocative translation of the title of Mahler’s Ruckert song, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen), employs very much the same visual techniques to a different end. Here we are exploring Mahler, the man and the composer, principally through his Ninth Symphony. Riccardo Chailly in his farewell performance as principal conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra gets the lion’s share here – along with Mahler’s main biographer, Henri-Louis de la Grange, a man who probably knows more about his subject than anyone living and who is particularly articulate in knocking down some of the hoary old shibboleths that have built up around Mahler. Here, too, Scheffer allows the music to speak as loudly as the commentators in elaborating his thesis. This is admirably non-interventionist film-making, even though it has strong, profound, fascinating and sometimes controversial things to say about its subject.
I really do feel that this is a much more fertile use of video to elucidate classic music than the usual fare we get. One would like to see much more of its ilk. In the meantime, this pair of excellent films on one disc comes highly recommended. [Klingsor Tristan]
1.37GB | 2h 07m | 624×384 | avi