The Italian Character: The story of a great Italian Orchestra [Blu-ray]
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The Italian Character gewährt dem Publikum einen Einblick in eine faszinierende Welt, die uns für gewöhnlich verwehrt bleibt. Die Dokumentation erzählt eine Geschichte über die Suche nach der Essenz des italienischen Charakters; im Zentrum stehen das Orchestra dell Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rom und sein Chefdirigent Sir Antonio Pappano. Der Film enthält Archiv-Material von der Zusammenarbeit mit einigen der besten Solisten und Dirigenten der Welt - so unter anderem Yuri Temirkanov, Valery Gergiev, Daniel Harding, Janine Jansen, Lisa Batiashvili oder auch Lang Lang.
Put Antonio Pappano in front of a movie camera and the result is compulsive viewing. Put him in front of an Italian orchestra and the result to judge by this DVD, released ahead of next week's UK tour by the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is compulsive listening. Pappano has energised the Rome-based ensemble since he became music director in 2005, as Bozzolini's 100-minute film makes clear. Some of the footage covers ground common to all leading orchestras the function of the conductor, the chemistry with guest artists, the travails of touring, the need to express individuality within a cohesive, disciplined group but the film also probes the character of this particular set of musicians. There are archive clips of Giulini (who started his career as a violinist in the Santa Cecilia) and Bernstein, plus an interview with Yuri Temirkanov, presumably to show the breadth of the orchestra's sympathies. Most revealing of all are the interviews with Pappano: the underlying message is that Italian musicians prefer enjoyment to structure, heart to precision. Being Italian, muses one, we re more likely to be caught up in the moment, without many filters between life and music. In his attempt to be encyclopedic, Bozzolini creates too many detours a visit to an instrument-maker, snapshots of musicians at home, footage of a trumpeter on an Alpine peak. The result is long-winded and occasionally banal, but Pappano and the orchestra emerge as a partnership with indomitable soul and an unswerving commitment to music. **** --FT, May'14
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The main feature is a thorough documentary lasting for some 99 minutes and constructed in 13 main chapters. A dominant force within the film is the current main conductor Antonio Pappano and the film commences with his views on what makes an orchestra of Italian musicians different from other nationalities. He also gives copious background to his own life as an English born offspring of Italian parentage. His father was a musician with a speciality in vocal music and Pappano was deeply involved with this as an accompanist from a young age and for years thereafter.
The film goes from this to orchestral members who give their own views as to what constitutes the special Italian ingredient within their orchestra. Essentially this starts to focus on varying descriptions of warmth of expression. This is perceived as of a type of emotional response that the players believe is more red-bloodied than that associated with orchestras from more northerly climes or the USA for example. Other key words heard with some frequency are 'passion' and 'energy.' These feelings are reciprocated towards the film where reactions from a German audience are chosen to support this viewpoint.
That same viewpoint is also strongly put forward in the central parts of the film which concentrates on the relationships between the orchestra and a range of conductors and various soloists. These are substantial interviews with conductors Yuri Temirkanov, Valery Gergiev, Giulini and Daniel Harding to reinforce this view plus archive film material with Giulini, Sinopoli, Pretre, Rostropovich, Bernstein and Georges Pretre where the considerable range of communication adopted by the conductors suggests a particularly emotional rapport.
Also mentioned is the Italians' love of playing rather than constantly stopping to apply particular details of interpretation. The suggestion is that it is through the playing that the communication between players and conductors is best achieved. This approach is seen to be in contrast with the preferences of other nationalities. An oft repeated view of the best conductors seen from the players' points of view is that of them having 'charisma' as the most defining element regardless of everything else. In other words their charisma communicates the conductors' wishes best of all and thus inspires the players to give of their best.
The soloists who are featured in a similar way are Janine Jensen, Lisa Batiashvile, Evgeny Kissin, Denis Matsuev, Lang Lang and Stefano Bollani. All of these eminent soloists stress that warmth of empathy in their own relationships with the orchestral members.
There is also a section in the film which explores the effects of touring upon the players and, interestingly, the shared contents of dreams and nightmares. Those last will be familiar to anyone where particular tools and timetables are essential to a job. Turning up late, missing transport connections, loss or damage to vital equipment are all familiar scenarios in relatively similar ways to many occupations.
The central part of the film will be of particular interest to anyone who is interested in the process whereby performances and interpretations are created from the raw materials of the notes. Naturally enough the film concentrates on the notion of warmth however it is encouraged and expressed. Seeing and hearing from such a range of conductors and soloists was fascinating.
The technical aspects of the film were of a good standard with clear wide-screen imaging and good DTS 5.1 sound as well as stereo.
The concept of the film, that the Italian character is essentially that of extra emotional warmth, is rather a thin concept on which to build a whole 99 minute documentary. However, so long as the viewer is responsive to the wider context of conductors, soloists, and mostly rehearsal footage (chosen because that illustrates the character more obviously), then this disc will provide an enjoyable and interesting insight into the distinctive world of professional musicians.
In fact, if you were to watch it without having been informed of the title, you might be forgiven for thinking it's actually named "The Conductor's Character." Much of its running time is taken up with ideas about conductors -- most of them not Italian, by the way -- and how they differ in their approach to an orchestra. The footage of French conductor Georges Pretre is exceedingly odd. I've never seen another conductor lead an orchestra in this way, with grotesque facial and hand gestures meant to extract emotion from the players rather than communicate a beat or a change in dynamic.
There are mildly interesting insights (like the above), but very few surprises. That some orchestras have retained a national identity and style is not news. The documentary seems to treat as a revelation that Italians are emotional, passionate, theatrical and less concerned with precision -- as per the familiar stereotype. And then it doesn't dive any deeper. Instead, we get some random behind-the-scenes moments for a handful of talented musicians -- jogging, harvesting honey, cultivating fruit trees -- and contrived playing-an-instrument-out-in-nature footage.
The rehearsal scenes are of interest, but after a while you yearn to hear a complete work played by this exciting orchestra. This documentary would have provided a nice bonus to a disc of an actual live performance, but it doesn't have enough substance to stand on its own.
The actual bonus feature provided here is skippable. As short as it is, it repeats scenes from the documentary (it even ends with exactly the same footage) and provides unenlightening interviews with behind-the-camera personnel.
The documentary doesn't identify its participants or the musical works, so you're left on your own there. The quality of the video image varies considerably, particularly since historical footage is incorporated. The sound (DTS HD 5.1) is very good.
I was provided with a review copy of this particular disc, although I've purchased many EuroArts discs (as well as those of other classical music labels) over the years.