DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

David Fray Records Mozart (2011)

Terrific pianism on display here, but as a filmed experience it really doesn’t offer a lot of illumination.

Published on January 23, 2013

David Fray Records Mozart (2011)

A Film by Bruno Montsaingeon
Program: Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat, K482; Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K503 Performers: Fray, p./ Philharmonia Orchestra/ Jaap van Zweden
Producer: Helene Cœuer
Studio: Virgin Classics 6419649 7 [Distr. by EMI Classics]
Video: 16:9 Color
Audio: DD PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, French
All Regions
Length: 163 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

32-year-old French pianist David Fray has been making quite a stir on the world scene the last few years, being compared to Glenn Gould for his supposed eccentricities in performance, primarily because his young career has been focused to a great extent on the music of Bach. Other CD releases have expanded his worldview into Schubert, Liszt, and even Boulez, and his name remains one of the up and coming celebrities whose ideas are sure to shake up the public and connoisseurs alike. Of course this isn’t new; every number of years a maverick-style instrumentalist appears on the scene to great acclaim; some last, others don’t. I think Fray will because his impetuousness will settle into something more substantial and profound as his experience accumulates over time.

But this is not to say that there is anything wrong with these performances—far from it. Fray’s Mozart is thoughtful, stylish, energetic, but above all quite poetic in nature. It is not thunderous in the least or overwhelming, but everything is done for a reason. You might not always agree with his reasoning, and I will get to more of that in a moment, but any hint of the cavalier or willful is completely absent these readings. He does to some extent try to make a link between these two concertos in the notes that I don’t find convincing, but that doesn’t matter; we still hear them one at a time, two separate entities. This is rigorously executed pianism of the highest caliber, and that inhabits Mozart’s world easily.

What I don’t particularly like is the film itself. Bruno Montsaingeon, perhaps more than any other similar artist in the world, always finds a way to reveal a little bit of the inner essence of the artists he films, to discover what makes them tick, and to let us in on even the smallest curio of their special genius. I don’t get that in this case. The overall format is “rehearse movement with conductor, play movement with conductor” for each of the concertos, followed by complete concert performances at the end. The dialog between Fray and Zweden is interesting but hardly illuminating; we get to hear what each of them thinks but rarely a moment of why. I can understand when Fray thinks a certain phrase should taper here or there, but I would like more in-depth penetration into his overall philosophy of the Mozart particulars that led him to say this. Otherwise it deteriorates to “I like it this way because I like it”, and that is hardly a firm foundation for considered interpretation.

So the verdict is mixed; as a film I think it fails, but there is no doubting that you will be entertained by some really fine Mozart-playing. Technically the film is excellent: sound, color, camerawork, you name it, and Montsaingeon has done it many times before. But the content has been better.

—Steven Ritter

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