DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Jean Sibelius: The Early Years; Maturity & Silence (1984/2006)

Producer Nupen wanted to focus on the work of a composer rather than his life

Published on March 19, 2007

Jean Sibelius: The Early Years; Maturity & Silence (1984/2006)
Jean Sibelius: The Early Years; Maturity & Silence (1984/2006)

Director: Christopher Nupen
Performers: Boris Belkin; Elisabeth Söderström; Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond.
Studio: Allegro Films 05CN (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 color, (Intros 16:9 anamorphic)
Audio: PCM Stereo, English
Subtitles: French, German, Italian, Spanish
Extras: Personal introductions by Nupen; “Allegro Molto” – compilation from Nupen Films
Length: 151 minutes
Rating: ****

This is one of the many excellent concert music films by Christopher Nupen, who began with documentaries on various performers but later also began a series on the great composers. This two-part survey of the music of Sibelius won awards at the New York International Film Festival and the Banff Television Festival. Nupen explains in his introduction that he wanted to focus on the work of a composer rather than his life; he felt one can read about the latter in books. He uses some of Sibelius’ own letters on the audio track, plus comments from colleagues.  The intent is to reveal some of the composer’s struggles and concerns in his life that affected his music.

Nupen points out that when Sibelius visited the U.S. in l935 and had his works played by the New York Philharmonic, its members voted him the most popular composer of all time.  But that impression has changed since then, although the composer seems to be regaining wider appreciation today, along with other 20th century composers who resisted the international serial style of composition.

The mystery of Sibelius giving up composing completely for the last three decades of his life is discussed. This is tied in with the title for the second half of the documentary, Maturity & Silence. Also, some of the financial and medical struggles which affected his situation are treated. There are some quiet lengthy sections of silent footage of the composer in his country home and talking walks, plus many lovely shots of the Finnish woods, lakes and wilderness, as material from his letters is read on the soundtrack and excerpts from his symphonies are played by the Swedish Radio Symphony under Ashkenazy. The composer’s psychological states at the time of composing his seven symphonies are probed, mainly from descriptions ini some of his letters.  The symphony excerpts are generous and chosen to highlight the points made in their descriptions. Both the cinematography and two-channel audio are top rate. 

 – John Sunier

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