Carlos Kleiber (Conductor) – Traces to Nowhere, Blu-ray (2012)
Director: Eric Schulz
With: Placido Domingo, Brigitte Fassbaender, others
Studio: ServusTV/ArtHaus Musik 108 041 [4/26/11] (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 16:9 1080i HD color & B&W
Audio: German & English PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Length: 72 minutes
Carlos Kleiber was one of those reclusive and difficult conductors who, like Celibidache, didn’t want to play the media game. Unlike Celibidache, he did make a number of fine studio recordings—mostly Beethoven, Mozart, Weber, Haydn, Richard Strauss and Wagner—although like his father Erich Kleiber he also conducted Borodin. But he never gave interviews, talked to the press, almost never allowed filming of his rehearsals, gave rather few concerts, and was known for not showing up for performances or walking out for some reason. He tried to follow the ancient Chinese adage “as far as possible you should leave no traces behind in life.” That’s where the film’s title comes from. (So what about his recordings?)
Somehow one earlier rehearsal session was filmed in black & white, and that provides examples of his unusual conducting style running thru the whole documentary, which focuses mainly on the enigmatic conductor’s final years (he died in 2004). Among the talking heads reminiscencing about Kleiber are Placido Domingo and opera mezzo Brigitte Fassbaender, as well as a makeup woman who worked with him. (Think that’s odd? The film was sponsored by Red Bull energy drink!) Kleiber’s sister also talks about her unusual brother.
The filmmaker had quite a task doing this documentary since he was working only with the one filmed rehearsal and just a few stills of Kleiber and his wife on vacations etc. Their is little actual criticism of him by the various talking heads, but one mentions Kleiber was quite a ladies’ man while married. Fassbaender easily excuses his dictator-like attitude with musicians and singers, and the general tone is a high esteem for his genius. One of the oboists in his orchestra goes into great detail about the special balletic flow of Kleiber’s unusual conducting techniques.
He was very close to Herbert von Karajan and frequently visited that conductor’s grave after his passing. He loved to conduct Der Rosenkavalier; his musical interests were usually limited to the Viennese-German area. Some German critics rank Kleiber as a conductor right up there with Furtwangler and Karajan—that surprised me. Like Karajan he loved expensive fast cars, and a concert executive tells us he was very sorry he accepted Kleiber’s invitation for a “short ride in a fast machine.” The last part of the film replicates some of Kleiber’s final drive to his Eastern European homeland where he liked to occasionally go to get away from things, and where he died.
Not sure why this was released on Blu-ray since there are no long selections of any of Kleiber’s performances and the sound is only PCM stereo. Also the much-used rehearsal footage is all mono B&W.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.