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DVD-Video Reviews - Oct. 2003, Pt. 1 of 3

All Music

David Oistrakh = BACH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041/BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 5 in F, Op. 24 "Spring"/SCHUBERT: Duo Sonata in A, D. 574/BRAHMS: Scherzo in C Minor/DEBUSSY: Clair de Lube/PROKOFIEV: 5 Melodies, Op. 35b; Sonata in C for 2 Violins, Op. 56/BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77--last movement (bonus track)

David Oistrakh, violin
Lev Oberin, piano
Frida Bauer, piano (Brahms, Debussy, Prokofiev)
Sir Colin Davis conducts English Chamber Orchestra (Bach)
Igor Oistrakh, violin
Rudolf Schwarz conducts BBC Symphony (Brahms Concerto)

Studio: EMI Classic Archive DVA 4928379
Video: 4:3, Black and White
Audio: Linear PCM mono
Length: 75:57
Rating: ****

A gracious and chaste portrait of veteran Russian violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974), this video compilation gives concerts 1958-1962, taped in London and Paris when Oistrakh was ar the height of his formidable powers. The camera work is especially close in the Paris studio, where Oistrakh and Oborin play Beethoven and Schubert, and both Oistrakh's long bow technique and left hand facility are in high relief. The opening Bach Concerto from Royal Festival Hall 1961 has a young Colin Davis supporting Oistrakh's easy manner in a lyric, suave performance. Lev Oborin, long time partner and member of the Oistrakh Trio, provides lucid, gracious filigree and some real bravura for the accompaniments in Beethoven and Schubert. The Oistrakh pianissimo is quite delicate, heard in the Debussy and Prokofiev accompanied work with Frida Bauer.

When Oistrakh brings in the heel of the bow for extra power in the Brahms, the effect is pungent and thrilling. Violinists will study this document to learn how a master uses a divided bow to elicit the effects he wants, while the left hand articulates no end of dynamic nuance to the pieces. The sheer mass of Oistrakh's bulk and girth might have made him the ideal miniaturist, since his sonic projection is always vibrant. If anyone could hit the middle of the musical marshmallow, it was Oistrakh, whose intonation is never less than ravishing. The joint venture with son Igor into the C Major Prokofiev makes a fine complement to the Bell Telephone Hour tape of their Bach Double Concerto. Both a musical and an pedagogical document, this is a fine DVD. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco

WAGNER: Tannhauser Overture; Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Love-Death/SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 10/STRAVINSKY: Symphony of Psalms; Firebird Suite (1945 edition)

Igor Markevitch conducts Orchestre National de ORTF; Choir de l'ORTF; Igor Stravinsky conducts New Philharmonia Orchestra (Firebird)

Studio: EMI Classic Archive DVB 4901119
Video: 4:3 Black and White
Audio: Linear PCM Mono
Rating: ***

EMI restores three performances by Russian-French conductor Igor Markevitch (1912-1983), whose lean, regal figure made him the Gallic counterpart to compatriot Yevgeny Mravinsky, only more aristocratically elegant. Originally trained in mathematics, Markevitch favored composition over conducting, although he became a conducting student of Ansermet and Scherchen. His recording career began around 1946 and continued through the late 1970's, each inscription marked by architecture and powerful, driving rhythms in repertoire that ranged from Cherubini to Gounod, Beethoven to Prokofiev, and Berwald to Verdi, with a strong dedication to the music of Stravinsky.

The performances by Markevitch derive from concerts 1963-1968, in black and white, only two of which (the Wagner concert from September 25, 1968 and the Stravinsky) occur before a live audience; the other is a taped studio concert. Unfortunately, in spite of good visual definition for the period and strong playing, there is a one-beat asymmetry/delay between the video and audio portions of each segment (a bit less obvious in Symphony of Psalms), the audio's lagging behind the visual image. If you can bear the disjunction, there are elegant readings of the Shostakovich First (June 15, 1963) and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms (June 14, 1967), with a minimum of gesture and sentimentalism from Markevitch. His style is the height of economical refinement although every rhythmic pulse, no matter how intricate, is accounted for via arms, hips, and a fluid stick technique. In the Stravinsky there is a nice touch when the cameras superimpose the combined forces of orchestra, pianos and chorus as a double image with Markevitch's trim baton-wielding.

The bonus track offers a BBC tape of Igor Stravinsky leading his own Suite from The Firebird (September 14, 1965) in the 1945 edition, the one that still paid him conducting royalties. This track from Royal Festival Hall. London has not the dysfunction in the aural/visual elements, and presents an animated composer-conductor with a responsive ensemble. Even at eighty-three, Stravinsky could still muster energy and finesse in the rendering of a vital score. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco

Glenn Gould - The Alchemist (1974)

A film by Bruno Monsaingeon
Studio: IMG Artists/EMI Classic Archive
Video: 4:3 B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital mono
Extras: the Piano Revealed on Film: Trials with Glenn Gould
Length: 157 minutes
Rating: ****

Sony Music had issued a number of laserdiscs devoted to the quirky Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, and now that the market for music videos seems to have expanded, several DVD offerings have come out not only from Sony but from various other sources. This one is part of EMI’s Classic Archive of classical video programs from other countries who saw fit to devote more air time to classical music than any broadcasters in the U.S. would ever have considered. This film in four parts - made for French television - shows Gould both in performance and in interviews with Monsaingeon, who also wrote the note booklet with the DVD. He observes that 29 years have elapsed since and “Glenn is no longer physically of this world - indeed, was he ever?” That pretty much sums up the concert pianist, and if your only exposure to him has been his audio recordings, you will agree with that assessment after seeing this revealing film.

It was shot about a decade after the pianist announced his total retreat from the concert platform in favor of making recordings and performing on the CBC (as well as producing some amazing non-musical documentaries for them). He explains to Monsaingeon his thinking behind this decision. Besides the unique music performances - nobody has ever played Bach the way Gould did - Monsaingeon describes the counter-subject of the film to be the relationship between music, recording techniques, and mass communication. Appropo recording techniques - one scene will have any recordists with audiophile pretensions tearing their hair: Gould has dictated every subtle part of the placement of several mics around the piano for the recording session - each feeding a separate mixing panel. Then he partly “conducts” the mixing engineer and partly grabs himself the fading up and down of the sliders as the original recording is “mixed” to the final version. He wants some passages to have a close-up sound and others to have more hall ambience - that means bringing up the level on a mic which is more distant from the piano. All in the same piece. Aaarghhh.

Part 1 is titled The Retreat and opens with the piano movers getting the piano into the studio where they will be filming. After it is placed there appears at the keyboard a ratty-looking straight chair with the seat pushed out, pieces of fabric handing down underneath it, the back legs shorter than the front, and the whole thing much lower to the ground than any piano bench. Monsaingeon, taken aback, asks Gould what that is and learns that it is the pianist’s favorite chair which Gould has carefully modified to be just right for him and which he takes everywhere - sort of like Linus’ blanket!

In this section he performs the Toccata from Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E minor and short pieces by Schoenberg, Wagner, William Byrd and his favorite composer - Orlando Gibbons! The Alchemist is Part 2’s title and here we hear excerpts from Bach’s English Suite No. 1 in A Major and two pieces by Scriabin. Part 3 shows and discusses Gould’s humorously instructive piece So You Want to Write a Fugue? which he created for a CBC-TV program on Bach. Plus three short variations by Webern and a magnificent performance of the entire Sonata Op. 1 of Alban Berg. In Part 4 Gould plays the entire Bach Partita No. 6. The original film has been carefully restored for this transfer and the mono sound is fine except for a few ham-fisted level variances (perhaps Gould’s own post-production efforts!). I didn’t understand why the producers would want to pay the license for the use of Dolby Digital mono processing when they could have easily fit a mono PCM track on the DVD with cleaner sound. Purchase here

- John Sunier

Monk in Paris - Live at the Olympia (1965)

DVD plus CD
Tunes on DVD: Lulu’s Back in Town; Blue Monk; ‘Round Midnight
Studio: Thelonius Records TMF 9316
Video: 16:9 widescreen enhanced B & W
Audio: Dolby Digital mono on DVD
Rating: ****

Another quandary - trying to decide whether to review this in our Jazz section or here in music video DVDs. Since there’s loads of Monk on CD and very little video of him I thought right here was appropriate. His son T.S. Monk Jr. together with Dr. Peter Grain created Thelonious Records as a vehicle to release some of the family’s cache of unreleased recordings of Monk. This is the first CD, and the second disc is a video DVD titled “You Haven’t Heard Monk Until You’ve Seen Him,” and that’s right! There is no special production or even an MC for this telecast on Norwegian TV - just Monk at his piano, Charlie Rouse on tenor, Larry Gales at his bass and Ben Riley on drums. The mono sound is very good. You really have a much deeper feeling for the music you hear on the also-fine CD - seven tracks of Monk standards by the same quartet recorded live - after you have seen Monk perform on the screen. The only thing I missed was that when he got up during a drum or bass solo he just stood there and failed to go into one of his unique little dances.. Purchase here

- John Henry

The Miles Davis Story (2001)

Director & Narrator: Mike Dibb
Studio: Channel 4 Television/Sony Legacy
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Extras: Biography, Album Profiles, Session notes
Length: 125 minutes
Rating: ****

This definitive film on the jazz star, his life and music was nominated for an Emmy covers just about every aspect of the trumpet player’s long career. It includes film, tape and kinescope performances with some of his greatest bands, and some revealing interviews with Miles himself as well as many other jazzmen and women in his life. Since he is now considered the most influential jazz musicians of the last 50 years it is surprising it took this long for a film bio to be produced, and that it had to occur in the UK again rather than in the U.S. It begins with Miles early years in East St. Louis and takes him to the last years when he toured the world like a big rock star. Among highlights are his playing with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, his studies at Juilliard, the 1949 Birth of the Cool recordings, the terrific collaboration with Gil Evans on their series of albums for Columbia, and his ground-breaking experiments in fusion jazz which turned off a portion of his fandom.

A number of the top musicians who gigged with Miles over the years are heard from, and some of the stories are priceless. Included are Clark Terry, George Avakian, Shirley Horn, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Miles biographer Ian Carr. Excerpts from some of his best-known recordings are also seen and heard, including: All Blues, Milestones, Miles Ahead, Walkin’, Bitches Brew, and Tutu. It never occurred to me before that last album was honoring Archbishop Tutu, mea culpa. Though done in the style of a typical PBS bio, with Miles as the subject you won’t be napping thru this one in spite of its length. Images and sound is fine too. I especially dug the gimmick of focusing in on a historic still photo, poster or headline in a newspaper (as Ken Burns would do) but then having one of the talking heads such as Dizzy seen in a closeup profile shot to one side, speaking about that piece of history. Purchase here

- John Henry

Randy Weston - Live in St. Lucia (2003)

Program: African Cookbook, The Shrine, African Sunrise, Little Niles, The Three Pyramids and The Sphinx, Blue Moses

Studio: BET Jazz/Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0; DTS 5.1
Extras: Interview with Randy Weston
Length: 68 minutes
Rating: ****

Taped in the idyllic British Caribbean island for the BET Jazz Channel, this feel- good concert features master jazz pianist and composer Randy Weston in a half dozen of his own instrumental compositions. His music usually incorporates African traditions and culture, as does the native culture of the little island. In fact he calls his band the Randy Weston African Rhythms Quintet. Little Niles and Blue Moses have both become jazz standards played by many other performers. His music is known not just for interesting its rhythms but for very catchy melodies and harmonies. His cohorts are T.K. Blue on reeds, Benny Powell on trombone, Alex Blake on acoustic bass and Neil Clarke playing African percussion. The players wear colorful outfits and the venue is an outdoor situation. There’s no MC or fancy production - just the quintet doing their thing for an hour or so. The DTS mix is excellent and makes the viewer part of the event. The interview afterwards with Weston is also well worth watching. Purchase here

- John Henry

The Kingston Trio And Friends Reunion (1981)

Studio: White Star
Video: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: DD Stereo
Extras: None
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: ***

This performance by original Kingston Trio members Dave Guard, Bob Shane, and Nick Reynolds, marks the first performance of the band in over 20 years. That’s not 20 years as in this year, but back in 1981. In addition to the original members, newer members of the group perform as well as some guest performances by Lindsey Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac), Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul, and Mary), and Tommy Smothers (who also hosts the show). The show takes place at Magic Mountain, and by the hairstyles and fashions of the audience members, it doesn’t take long to realize this concert took place a while ago. The music the band plays is folk, and apparently has had some very positive influences on artists like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and other groups of the late 1950s and 1960s. The performance is fast, full of joy, spry, and always tells a story. At first I thought that the music would not really be to my taste, but as I listened longer I began to get into it. The applause from the audience shows a fervent attachment to the band and knowledge of their material. Scotch and Soda is the kind of tune that gets your feet tapping and head swaying--my favorite on the disc. This disc isn’t for everyone, but for folk music fans this will be an enjoyable hour and a half.

Songs included: Three Jolly Coachmen; Early Morning Rain; Scotch and Soda; Hard, Ain’t It Hard; Zombie Jamboree; Tom Dooley; Medley—Blowin’ in the Wind/Lonesome Traveler/Hangman; Down Among the Sheltering Palms; Where Have All the Flowers Gone; Leavin’ on a Jet Plane; Reuben James; Chilly Winds; Greenback Dollar; You Can’t Go Back to Kansas; Spinnin’ of the World; Hard Travelin’; Sloop John B; A Worried Man; M.T.A. Purchase here

-Brian Bloom

Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon (2003)

Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd.
Video: 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Extras: Bonus Interviews: 1. Brain Damage, 2. Money, 3. Us and Them, 4. Water’s World View, 5. Breathe, 6. Time, 7. Waters on Rock n’ Roll, 8. Chris Thomas, 9. Gilmour’s Guitars: Breathe, 10. Gilmour’s Guitars: The Great Gig in the Sky, 11. Gilhour’s Guitars: Us and Them, 12. Gerry Has the Last Word
Length: 84 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

This video DVD was obviously produced to coincide with the release of the multichannel version of DSOTM on SACD this year. After having dominated the sales charts back in the 70s and 80s the album still has great appeal to both young and old audiences. This video production takes a look track-by-track at the creation of the original album in l973. All four members of the band are featured in the interviews: Roger Waters (who wrote all the lyrics), David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright. They each play some of their favorite songs from the album and in some sections there is an on-screen cross-fade where they begin playing a theme on their guitar that we had just been hearing. Their original engineer Alan Parsons also takes us thru the multitrack tapes and explains how the mixing was done in the studio. This approach bore some resemblance to the Steely Dan video on Two Against Nature. After a time it gets tiresome and one wants to see and hear the band performing live - but that doesn’t occur much. I must have re-started the “Roger Waters World View” statement three or four times trying to make some sense of what Waters was saying. I got the feeling some chemical assistance might be required to do so properly. His death and doomsday-flavored lyrics certainly make an intriguing contrast with the Floyd's ecstatic-sounding music - sort of a rock equivalent of Scriabin to my ears!

What was most frustrating to me was seeing just a minute or so of the imaginative animation for many of the DSOTM tunes, but then it would suddenly return to more of the interview or watching a tape reel unroll while listening to the music. I had thought there was a complete animation that went with every track of DSOTM - similar to Yellow Submarine. Perhaps I’m wrong, and if so I won’t be quite as disappointed it wasn’t included as an extra with this DVD. In fact there is only one tune from the album that they play all the way thru here - everything else fades out. It was also a bit disappointing that the DVD audio wasn’t at least Dolby 5.1 if not DTS - after experiencing the mind-altering surround effects of the DSOTM SACD! Still, every Floyd fan will want to have this for the interviews and extras. Purchase Here

-- John Henry

Chicago (2003)

Starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly
Studio: Miramax
Video: 1.85:1 widescreen enhanced for 16x9
Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, French language track option
Subtitles: Spanish
Extras: Deleted musical number “Class;” Behind-the-Scenes Special; Commentaries by Director & Screenwriter
Length: 113 minutes
Rating: ****

This high-voltage winner of six Academy Awards shouts out loudly that musicals are back! No wonder audiences and critics have both gone ga-ga over Chicago. The original Kander and Ebb Broadway musical which starred Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon as the pair of sexy dancers who murdered their lovers has been revived with a vengeance. (It was mounted in l975 by Bob Fosse who went on to direct his film All That Jazz - also just released on DVD by Fox and making a great double feature with Chicago.) Spaces in 1920s’ Murderess Row are shared by Velma and Roxie, who both want to share Billy Flynn - the hotshot attorney famous for turning notorious defendants into innocents. Queen Latifah is the prison warden; she brings down the house with When You’re Good to Mama. The other big musical numbers are Cell Block Tango, Mister Cellophane, Rassle Dazzle and Nowadays.

All the actors had to work exceptionally hard at the musical side of this production: for example, rapper Queen Latifah had never sung this type of song, and Gere and Zellweger had never tap-danced. Everyone concerned is terrific. One of the most creative threads in the film is the constant sudden sequeing from semi-realistic, non singing low life to glittering on-stage musical extravaganzas - usually seen thru the eyes of Roxie, who wants badly to be in the spotlight any way she can. These transitions are seamless and make more acceptable to the viewer the switch from characters just talking normally and then suddenly bursting into song. This entire production is rassle dazzling. The transfer is superb, with brilliant and vibrant color and detail, and the sound has to be better than in the theater; all the subtle dialog and lyrics are distinct now without distractions from other theater-goers. And if not you can always hit the Previous Chapter button. Purchase here

- John Sunier

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