Scott Ross, Playing & Teaching Yvonne Loriod, Pianist & Teacher (Harmonia mundi DVD series)

by | Mar 4, 2011 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

1) Scott Ross, Playing & Teaching (1987-91/2011)

Filmmaker: Jacques Renard
Studio: Les Lecons Particulieres de Musique/Harmonia mundi HMD 9909031
Video: 4:3 color
All regions
Audio: French & Italian PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English, French, German
Length: 55 minutes
Rating: ****

2) Yvonne Loriod, Pianist & Teacher (1987-91/2011)

Filmmaker: Francois Manceaux
Studio: Les Lecons Particulieres de Musique/Harmonia mundi HMD 9909032
Video: 4:3 color
All regions
Audio: French PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English, French, German
Length: 57 minutes
Rating: ****

During 1987 thru 1991 French television broadcast a series of 12 films devised by Olivier Bernager and Francois Manceaux around the idea of “Private Music Lessons.” These are just two out of the series, which featured among others: René Jacobs, Hermann Baumann, Kenneth Gilbert, José Van Dam, Yuri Bashmet and Nikita Magaloff. The series used often prestigious settings related to the sense of the lessons.  For example, the one on harpsichordist Scott Ross opens and closes with scenes in Rome and especially the gardens of the Villa Medici. These are genuine films on music and how one learns to make it. It is most interesting to see some of these figures – such as Rene Jacobs – twenty years ago, who have gone on to even greater stature, or who are no longer with us.  As well there are the students who appear in the films, some of whom have gone on to become top artists in their field since.                         

Ross was an American born in Pittsburgh, whose mother moved to France after his father died. He studied at the Nice Conservatory, and later with Robert Veyron-Lacroix and Kenneth Gilbert. For 13 years he taught at the Laval University School of Music in Quebec. Among his many recordings are the complete set of 555 Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, on Erato. He also did complete sets of the harpsichord music of Rameau and Couperin. He died of AIDS in 1989.

Ross was noted for his unusual clothing – in this film a simple Irish sweater and a woven skull cap – and for his controversial opinions about music. In this film we hear his horror at Glenn Gould’s interpretations of Bach (“completely wrong!”) as well the fact that Wanda Landowska never once played a real harpsichord (you could say that). He doesn’t like the fortepiano’s sound. He did like Horowitz’s treatment of Scarlatti on the piano, but is obviously partial to playing works written for the harpsichord or clavichord on those instruments, not on the piano. He had a flexibility of approach to the music which seems very much in tune with the predominant practice today – not being afraid to take freedoms from the musicologically authentic interpretations when it made sense.

His students – with whom he spent a day at the side of the keyboard – were Nicolau de Figueiredo and Alessandro de Marchi, and the selections heard include Bach, Couperin and Rameau. Ross is seen in one public performance and another solo to end the film. His love of cats is alluded to in a quick shot of a Rome cat peering around a fountain.

There have been several documentaries on the major French composer Olivier Messiaen, but none before this one on his wife and muse, Yvonne Loriod, who originally met him taking one of his music analysis classes.  From 1943 onwards she gave the first performances of most of Messiaen’s piano works, and recorded many of them. I was slightly disappointed that there was no footage of Loriod playing the Ondes Martenot, used in some of Messiaen’s orchestral works.

The students in this film are Nicholas Angelich, Kei Saotome, Roger Muraro, and the two-piano duo Yoko Kaneko and Masaaki Yasuda. It opens with young Angelich performing a horribly virtuosic atonal Messiaen work (part of his 20 Regards of the Infant Jesus) in front of Loriod, with Messiaen carefully studying the score in his lap with an unchanging scowl. Talk about making a guy nervous!  

Loriod was regarded as an excellent teacher, and though her pupils at the National Conservatory in Paris feared she would only assign them difficult contemporary music, she herself states that she always divided her selection of repertory among the three areas – early music, Romantic, and contemporary. She passed on to her pupils the best elements of the French technique and touch. The examples of her teaching environment and approach are clearly shown. The Messiaens were solid in their unswerving Catholic faith, which is so strongly emphasized in his music.  However, in the realm of modern music Loriod had a strong anti-establishment attitude.  The keyboard selections heard during the film, in addition to Messiaen, are from both Mozart and Beethoven. There is one solo performance of Messiaen by Loriod.

There are no fancy traveling-crane shots or editing.  This is a straight-forward filmic approach with the focus on the individuals on the screen. The PCM stereo sound is excellent.

 — John Sunier

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