Legendary British Performers, 1954-1972

by | Jun 5, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Legendary British Performers, 1954-1972

Performers & Program = Jacqueline Du Pre: MENDELSSOHN: Song Without Words in D, Op. 109; GRANADOSL: Intermezzo from Goyescas; SAINT-SAENS: Allegro appassionato in B Minor, Op. 43 – Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears: BRIDGE: Go not, happy day; TRAD: Down by the Sally Gardens; The Shooting of the Dear; The Plough Boy; MOZART: Andante from Piano Quartet in G Minor, K. 478 – Alfred and Mark Deller: ROSETER: What then is love but mourning; BLOW: Ah, heaven, what isn’t I hear; PURCELL: Sound the trumpet; ANON: Have you seen but the white lily grow – Sir John Barbirolli: DVORAK: Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66 – John Ogden: LISZT: Dante Sonata; Solomon: SCHUBERT: Impromptu in A-flat Major, D. 899, No. 4 – Dame Myra Hess: BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110; BACH: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring; Adagio from Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564
Studio: EMI Classics DVD 38846192
Video: 4:3 Black & White and Color (Deller)
Audio: PCM Mono
Length: 100:12
Rating: ****

A collection of BBC performances, taped 1954-1972, featuring a stellar ensemble of British musical artists makes for a fascinating soiree for any avid classical aficianado. The video opens with a rather “dry” set piece with Jacqueline Du Pre (4 February 1962), sitting on a raised, oval platform to the right of her sister, Iris du Pre. But then Jacqueline begins to play, and we forget we are on earth. Her suave tone and easy facility make the Mendelssohn a pleasure and the Granados a statement of the Spanish soul. The effervescent Saint-Saens Du Pre carries off with charm and nonchalant abandon, while her sister’s piano part is rendered in a crisp series of musical flashes. Next, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (7 May 1964) in a brief but colorful set of songs, of which one, The Shooting of the Dear, Pears performs a cappella. Britten turns his attention to a powerful Mozart statement in the Andante from the Piano Quartet No. 1 with thoughtful assistance from Emanuel Hurwitz, Cecil Aronowitz, and Terence Weil. Then he and Pears combine for a dashing, charmed rendition of The Plough Boy.

While I am not partial to countertenors, the set by Alfred Deller, with lutenist Desmond Dupre proves most beguiling, and the camera-work helps, often by superimposing images of Deller and his son Mark upon the sounding board of the lute and guitar. In concert before a live audience, the ambience between the Dellers in the John Blow and Henry Purcell songs instigates a barrage of applause, well earned. Sir John Barbirolli (30 January 1962) makes a lively appearance before a modest but enthusiastic audience at the Free Trade Hal, Manchester with his Halle Orchestra in a rousing performance of Dvorak’s Scherzo capriccioso, in which Sir John choreographs his feet along with his long baton for the alternately Slavonic dance and waltz sequences. 

The last three artists are all pianists: John Ogden (26 October 1961) in a single minded Dante Sonata of Liszt, played at one fell, ecstatic swoop as a study in emotional contraries. Hunched over the keyboard, Ogden moves his hands too fast for the camera to follow without blurring. The music barely keeps up with the image of piano dexterity. On the other hand, Solomon appears (15 January 1956) a singular model of poise and sang-froid at the keyboard, and only the intensely variegated harmonization of the Schubert impromptu tells us of the deep commitment of this great artist, whose career ended all too abruptly with a debilitating stroke.

Finally, Dame Myra Hess (20 October 1954) plays Bach and Beethoven in a badly oxidized tape which renders her instrument consistently out of tune; yet, for all of the bleached visual quality and the shattered sound, this is perhaps the most satisfying moment musically. Hess is thoroughly rapt at the keyboard, her Jesu, Joy of Man‚s Desiring and the Adagio from the organ toccata fervent, implosive prayers; her Beethoven projects a world in itself. She rises after her seat and looks at the camera, “Bon soir and Good Night to all my friends at home and abroad.” Enough said.

— Gary Lemco

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