Documentary

Music Is the Language of the Heart and Soul: A Portrait of Mariss Jansons and Mahler Symphony No. 2

Music Is the Language of the Heart and Soul: A Portrait of Mariss Jansons and Mahler Symphony No. 2. Here's the content:

1. Portrait of Mariss Jansons. Documentary by film maker Robert Neumüller on the life and career of Mariss Jansons. Produced by Felix Breisach; camera by Robert Neumüller.

2. Mahler Symphony No. 2 with Jansons conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Choir in 2009 in Amsterdam. Ricarda Merbeth sings soprano and Bernarda Fink is the mezzo-soprano. Directed for TV by Joost Honselaar; camera by Marlies Puijk; lighting by Pascal Naber; sound by Everett Porter; edited by Ronald be Beer; produced by Ronald Kok.

Released 2012, the documentary has stereo and the concert has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C-


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Van Gogh brush with genius

Van Gogh brush with genius documentary about Van Gogh's career as a painter.  This 40 minute film, with good shots of 41 paintings,  was made for showing in IMAX theaters. In addition to the movie, there is a 20-minute "Making of" documentary and  a "Van Gogh Art" slide show with still shots of 25 of the 41 paintings. The main film was directed by François Bertrand based an original idea from Peter Knapp; book by Marie Seller; original music by Armand Amar. Directed for TV by Vincent Mathias. This film was produced by MacGillivray Freeman Films, a company that has made many IMAX action movies. Released 2010, disc has dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. Grade: B

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Seiji Ozawa 75th Anniversary Box Set

Seiji Ozawa 75th Anniversary Box Set. This set has 5 Blu-ray jewel boxes:

1. Brahms Symphony No. 2 & Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. This is a superb HDVD that you can buy separately. We graded both titles A+ elsewhere on this site.

2. Janáček Cunning Little Vixen. This is a nice HDVD that you can buy separately. We graded it B+ elsewhere on this site.

3. The Last Don Quixote. Mstislav Rostropovich and Seiji Ozawa playing Strauss's Don Quixote. This is a complicated two disc set. Disc 2 is the main show---a performance (43 minutes) of Don Quixote from 2002 with the Saito Kinen Orchestra. This performance has decent video and was recorded with 5.0 PCM 96 kHz/24 bit surround sound. Disc 1 is a strange mixed bag. It has a 1 hour, 15 minute documentary, with good video and 5.0 PCM 96 kHz/24 bit surround sound, about the Don Quixote recording. The documentary includes rehearsal video with a lot of personal information about Rostropovich. The documentary also has a fanciful Don Quixote movie (43 minutes) that illustrates the Cervantes story as told by Strauss in the tone poem. Then follows a 1995 concert with Rostropovich and the NHK Orchestra playing the Dvořák Concerto for Cello. This performance has remarkable good video but there is only stereo sound (which is quite good).

4. Beethoven Symphony No. 7/Mahler Symphony No. 9. This disc has material shot in 1989 & 2002 and does not meet our standards for an HDVD.

5. Extras Disc. This disc doesn't have an NSBS catalog number like the other disc packages because its just extras, including two short tutorials about western music from Ozawa & trailers for NHK HDVDs. This is all in Japanese with no subtitles. Some material is in SD & stereo. The value of this part of the set is nil for Japanese speakers and 0 for westerners.

So we can sum up the boxed set as follows: it has two fine titles (1 & 2 above) you can buy separately and an odd title (3 above) with a lot of material about the  Strauss Don Quixote plus a recording of the Dvořák Concerto for Cello. Then there are two jewel boxes (4 & 5 above) you can throw away. 

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Ives Holidays Symphony

Charles Ives Holidays Symphony. Michael Tilson Thomas directs the San Francisco Symphony in a recent performance of the Holidays Symphony as part of its "Keeping Score" outreach program. In addition, Thomas narrates an educational program about Ives and the Holidays Symphony. Directed for TV by Gary Halvorson. Released 2009, disc has 7.1 Dolby TrueHD sound. Grade: NA

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Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. Michael Tilson Thomas directs the San Francisco Symphony in a  performance of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 as part of it's "Keeping Score" outreach program.  Thomas also narrates a substantial documentary about Shostakovich.  Finally, there are other bonus features about the San Francisco Symphony and its recording facilities. Directed for TV by Gary Halvorson. Released  2009, disc is in high-definition video (a bit of SD  in the bonus features)  and has 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound. Grade: NA


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Glenn Gould: Hereafter

Glenn Gould: Hereafter documentary. This is a motion picture film, directed by Bruno Monsaingeon, about the legendary Gould. According to the release announcement, it "synthesizes an incredible wealth of archival material" and is made "as if narrated by Gould himself." Released in 2009, it has 5.0 dts-HD sound. This was the first HDVD documentary about a fine-art subject. Grade: B+

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The Virtual Haydn

The Virtual Haydn has the complete works for solo piano by Haydn. Tom Beghin plays it all in a 4-disc box set using 7 historical keyboard instruments played in 9 virtual historic rooms. One HDVD is devoted to a documentary about the project, a concert with 5 Haydn selections, and an interactive feature that lets you hear how the 7 different instruments would sound in each of the 9 rooms (total of 63 examples). In addition, there are 3 Blu-ray audio disks with all of Haydn's keyboard works. Except for a couple of short archive scenes, the video is in high-definition. (There is no DVD version of this.) Released in 2009, discs have 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade A+

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La Danse - Le Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris

 

La Danse - Le Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris documentary motion picture made 2008 on film stock by Frederick Wiseman. Per a blurb on the package, the film: "follows the rehearsals and [brief excerpts from] performances of seven ballets: Genus by Wayne McGregor, Medea by Angelin Preljocaj, The House of Bernarda Alba by Mats Ek, Paquita by Pierre Lacotte, The Nutcracker by Rudolph Nureyev, Orpheus and Eurydice by Pina Bausch, and Romeo and Juliet by Sasha Waltz. The film shows the work involved in administering the company and the coordinated and collaborative work of choreographers, ballet masters, dancers, musicians, and costume, set, and lighting designers." Grade A

Frederick Wiseman is maybe the most prolific and successful of America's almost unknown documentary film makers. He is eccentric, uncompromising, and non-commercial---the only way you can get one of his films is to buy it directly from him. His style is nothing like that of better known documentary makers like Ken Burns (didactic) or Michael Moore (polemical). Wiseman is an artist whose paintbrush is a 16 mm camera. What he shoots is, of course, as realistic as true crime, but the edited result bears the same relationship to his subjects as Kafka's Der Prozeß bears to the social science of justice systems.

Weisman is considered to be one of the leading exponents of the "Direct Cinema" school of documentary film. Weisman's subjects are institutions. His MO can be illustrated by his shooting of La Dance. He first got permission. He made no preparation. He then hung around the ballet building with a skeleton crew with light-weight gear shooting color film. He shot whatever he stumbled onto that seemed interesting. Nothing was arranged in advance---all was pure serendipity based on the daily schedule published by the Ballet School. After 3 months or so, he felt he had enough "in the can", which was 130 hours of rushes. Then the editing began. Wiseman spent one year editing La Dance. Although his film had no script or objective, he created what he calls a "drama" showing what life is like at the Paris Opera Ballet. The drama lasts 2 hours and 38 minutes. 98% of his rushes stayed on the shelf. The only thing added to the raw film were translations in English of the French conversations that appear in the film. Wiseman added no voice-over or other didactic material ("spoon feeding") to explain anything about what is portrayed.

Imagine you were allowed to hang around the Paris Opera Ballet for 3 months. Then a year later someone asks you after drinks to tell what you saw and heard. What you would say would be similar to Weisman's film. This is pure existentialism. If you love ballet already, you are probably going to be interested in La Dance; if you are not a ballet lover, you are probably going to be ready to quit after 30 minutes. The fact that you are still with us says you are interested, so read on.

We now have (November 2010) four wonderful HDVDs of productions by the Paris Opera Ballet, all A+ titles on this website. These are Swan Lake, Giselle, La Dame aux camélias, and Orpheus und Eurydike. By comparing credits, we have established that no fewer than 24 named dancers in these HDVDs also appear in La Dance. For the groupies and trivia fans among us, La Dance is a diamond mine of delights! Also, La Dance has excerpts from 6 ballets that have not yet appeared in HDVD. So this documentary gives us a preview of some fantastic shows that we may eventually get in HDVD. La Dance will be a valuable item in your collection if you are a fan of HDVD ballets.

Here are a number of identifications of famous dancers of the POB that may help you enjoy La Dance. Many of these appear in the 4 HDVDs mentioned above. Multiple dancers train for each role so they can rotate through the performances. If you can add additional identifications, please let us know:

  • 0:52 --- Benjamin Pech
  • 4:36 --- Stephane Bullion, Émelia Cozette, and Alice Renavard in Medea rehearsal. Stephane Bullion is the male lead in our Orpheus and Eurydice HDVD. Here you see he is modest is size and slender. But he is also strong, as he demonstrates in Orpheus and Eurydice with his many complicated lifts of his partner, Agnès Letestu.
  • 7:05 --- José Martinez and a female dancer, probably in rehearsal for the Nutcracker. The female dancer can't get it right, and the instructor almost berates her. The female just happens to be Laëtitia Pujol, the POB star of our Giselle HDVD! Even the stars get one-on-one tutoring until they can do everything perfectly. José Martinez is the male lead in our Swan Lake HDVD.
  • 10:16 --- Agnès Letestu and Hervé Moreau, probably in rehearsal for Paquita. Letestu is the female lead in our Swan Lake HDVD.
  • 20:25 --- Benjamin Pech and Marie-Agnès Gillot in rehearsal for Genus under supervision by Wayne McGregor himself. Gillot danced Myrtha in our Giselle HDVD. So here we see an example of one of the top classical/romantic dancers in the world also working on cutting-edge modern dance.
  • 37:02 --- Émelia Cozette and teacher working on Medea. Wiseman must of been proud of this shot. The teacher explains to Cozette, "The character [of Medea] is layered from the beginning. The coherence is built step by step as the ballet develops." This statement also describes perfectly the process used by Wiseman in La Dance to produce his "drama."
  • 42:19 --- Yann Brigard, Muriel Zusperreguy, and Preljocaj himself working on Medea.
  • 45.09 --- Unidentified girl holding a big loaf of bread prop. This prop appears in the Orpheus und Eurydike HDVD.
  • 55.22 --- Emmanuel Thibault in cameo. He gets off the elevator and walks down a hall. Thibault dances the Pas de Trois in the Swan Lake HDVD and also dances in our Giselle HDVD.
  • 55:57 --- Aurélie Dupont and Hervé Moreau in performance of Romeo and Juliet.
  • 1:05:19 --- Genus rehearsal---looking good!
  • 1:08:51 --- Medea dress rehearsal with Émelia Cozette and Wilfried Romoli, who danced Hilarion in the Giselle HDVD.
  • 1:13:31 --- Nutcracker rehearsal with Laëtitia Pujol.
  • 1:16:17 --- Fantastic Genus performance excerpt. Marie-Agnès Gillot takes command at 1:18:50.
  • 1:26:29 --- Astonishing scene where the beautiful Alice Renavard seduces Medea's husband, danced by Wilfred Romeli. Somewhere we get the impression that this scene was written with Renavard in mind.
  • 1:41:54 --- Marie-Agnès Gillot shows her classical chops in a rehearsal for Paquita.
  • 1:54:18 --- Bone-chilling performance excerpt of scene where Medea, danced by Delphine Moussin, kills her children.
  • 2:02:04 --- Puhol and Nicolas Le Riche dance in a Nutcracker performance. Le Riche dances the leading role of Albrecht in the Giselle HDVD.
  • 2:08:30 --- Dorothée Gilbert and others in Paquita. Gilbert has important roles in the Swan Lake and Dame aux camélias HDVDs.
  • 2:13:20 --- José Martinez one-on-one with teacher.
  • 2:15:38 --- Gillot and Pujol and others in performance excerpt of Mason de Bernarda Alba. This unforgettable scene involves speaking (of a sort) and screaming by dancers.
  • 2:23:03 --- Yann Bridard rehearsing for our Orpheus und Eurydike HDVD performance.
  • 2:29:22 --- Back to Genus with more brilliant moves by Gillot and Letestu to wrap up the film.

We should also point out the weakness in this title. Wiseman's video is, compared to the brilliant and clear images we are now used to, often unacceptable even though it was made on film. The sound is pretty good, but only in stereo. The packaging is primitive and there is no helpful booklet. We overlook all this because Wiseman did the best he could with his shoe-string approach. We are lucky to have this document to support our enjoyment of our HDVD ballets. Because this will only be of interest to some fine-arts HDVD fans and because of the technical defects in the work, we give it a designation. But we then give it an "A" grade because we think most ballet lovers will want to have it.

Purchase from Zipporah

Eastern Voices

Eastern Voices documentary by Frank Scheffer and Günter Wallbrecht about the fusion of eastern and western music as experienced by participants in the Morgenland Festival in Osnabrück, Germany. (Morgen in German means "morning" with the sun rising in the East and Morgenland here means the Middle East.) Disc features Ibrahim Keivo, the Alim & Fargana Qasimov Ensemble, Salar Aghili & Harir Shariatzadeh; the Yulduz Turdieva Ensemble, Christian Heinecke, the Morgenland Chamber Orchestra, and Nader Mashayekhi. The documentary lasts 49 minutes. It has rehearsal segments, interviews, and excerpts of concert performances. The bonus consists of 63 minutes of straight performance by Eastern artists. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

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Berlioz Symphonie fantastique

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. Michael Tilson Thomas directs the San Francisco Symphony in a  performance of Symphonie Fantastique as part of the "Keeping Score" outreach program of the San Francisco Symphony. In addition, Thomas narrates a 55-minute Public Television educational program about Berlioz and the Symphonie fantastique. The TV recording was directed by Gary Halvorson. Released 2009, disc has Dolby TrueHD 7.1 sound. Grade: NA

Thomas is as good a speaker and teacher as he is a conductor. The documentary has all the production values you could hope for like gorgeous shots of Paris and other locations in France and Italy, excellent writing based on careful research, and expert movie making. Thomas tells about the life of Berlioz, and he makes the Symphonie fantastique come alive as he explains the themes and aspects of the music in relation to the dramatic loves of young Hector. So we would give the documentary an A+.

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Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould film. Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont direct this film depicting Glenn Gould's life. Released  2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

This is the second HDVD documentary produced about the life and art of Glenn Gould. The other, Glenn Gould: Hereafter, has already been reviewed and recommended on this site. For the Glenn Gould aficionado, both titles are probably already must-owns. But for the less fanatical of us, the idea of purchasing two documentaries about the same subject might be overkill. On the surface the two titles are similar: both use SD footage of interviews and performances by Gould plus new interviews and discussion with HD video. There is quite a bit of overlap of historical footage.

But the two films diverge in the scope and tone of the modern-day material. Hereafter is primarily concerned with the legacy of Gould and his still considerable influence (the interviews in Hereafter are not with anyone who knew Gould personally, but rather with fans who fell in love with Gould's playing after his death). GeniusWithin takes a more direct approach. The interviews are all of friends, colleagues, or former lovers of Gould, who attempt to portray the kind of man Gould was. Where Hereafter is reverential to the utmost degree, Genius Within attempts to show Gould in a more neutral, well rounded light. We learn of an extremely gifted and talented man aware of the power of his fame. And we also learn of his idiosyncrasies and flaws. 

Genius Within also does a better job than Hereafter in explaining why Gould became such a phenomenon. I didn't know much about Gould before watching the these two films. Genius Within gave me clearer understanding than Hereafter of Gould's unique way of playing classic works.

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