Unrivaled Legendary Artists in Rare Film Footage with Sound

by | Aug 28, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Unrivaled! Legendary Artists in Rare Film Footage with Sound

Performers: Emanuel Feuerman, cello/ Josef Hofmann, piano/ Mindru Katz, piano/ Felix Weingarten, conductor/ Bruno Walter, conductor/ Art Tatum, piano/ Marian Anderson, contralto/ George Gershwin, piano 
Program: POPPER: Spinning Song; DVORAK: Rondo in G Minor; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5–Third Movement; RACHMANINOV: Prelude in C Sharp Minor, Op. 3, No. 2; BEETHOVEN: Moonlight Sonata; CHOPIN: Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3; WEBER: Der Freischutz Overture; WEBER: Oberon Overture; I Hope I’ll Join the Band; Tiny’s Exercise; GERSHWIN: I Got Rhythm – segment
Studio: Cembal d’Amour DVD 123 (Distrib. Qualiton)
Video: 4:3 Black & White, All Regions
Audio: PCM mono
Length: 58:25 
Rating: ****

This collection of rare footage opens with hands turning a program (1941) to Popper’s fierce etude, “Spinning Song,” with the legendary Emanuel Feuerman (1902-1942) and pianist Theodore Saidenberg. Feuermann represented a modern, anti-anachronistic approach to the cello art, the very opposite of what Pablo Casals had established as a tradition. How much Feuermann resembles Janos Starker, in look and method! The camera passes from a mid-range distance shot to over Feuermann’s left shoulder, occasionally to the bridge of his instrument. The faster passages are so streamlined as to defy any sense of effort. Nice shot of Feuermann in profile against Saidenberg’s rapt piano part in the Op. 94 Rondo. From 1945, pianist Josef Hofmann pairs with Donald Vorhees and the Bell Telephone Hour Symphony to play an abbreviated third movement from Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. Whatever Hofmann’s personal quirks by this period in his career, his chiseled hands could still produce a delicate tracery of sound. We do miss some of Beethoven’s more exciting modulations due to the cuts. Too brief, this excerpt. [But that’s par for TV, even back then…Ed.]  But Hofmann plays the Rachmaninov Prelude with help from the lighting, a kind of film noir moment before a spellbound and silent orchestra.

Mindru Katz (1925-1978) was pianist-producer Mordecai Shehori’s teacher, so this Moonlight Sonata from Istanbul is a special sequence, a momento mori. The sonata was taped just before Katz’s untimely death. The camera fixates above the piano interior, then it cuts to his hands in the treble register of the piano for the Adagio sustention. The severity of the set adds poignancy to the demurely chaste performance, a study in gradations of ppp and mezzo-piano. The Allegretto proves more astonishing than the opening movement, for its nuanced dynamics and marcato second subject. Katz plays the Presto with bravura elegance, every phrase molded, the left hand part clearly articulated. The Chopin Etude soon becomes the equivalent of the Funeral March, given our hindsight as to the pianist’s mortality. The crescendos emerge quite naturally and with impressive force. The shot of Katz above the piano’s interior action provides a fitting farewell image.

Felix Weingarten (1863-1942) and the Paris Symphony Orchestra (1932) provide the first of the two examples of the old German school of conducting. Weingarten, like Toscanini, eschewed Romantic excess in his musical style, preferring to bring forth the composer’s wishes, not his own personality. The camera spends considerable time with the French horns in Der Freischuetz, pulling back to reveal spare movements from Weingarten. The baton hand does the work, the left occasionally indicating an entry. Cut to winds and strings for the big melody and stormy exposition. Oboe solo in the midst of the tremolandi. Flute solo prior to the heavy strings and basses. Weingartner resembles the “black pilllar” of Mr. Brocklehurst (Henry Daniell) in Jane Eyre. Weingartbner punches out the rhythm, then cues the tympani; a perfect silence just before the explosion and march to the final peroration. From 1931 Berlin, we hear Bruno Walter (1876-1962) lead the Berlin Philharmonic in the Oberon Overture, a reading extremely notable for its lightness in the winds and strings. The warmth and quiet intensity of the performance opens up at the tympani stroke and becomes animated, Italianate in the Toscanini fashion. Close-up on the French horn and back to Walter’s baton and cue for the clarinet. The tuttis are particularly effective, sprightly and astonishingly quick. Only the final shot gives us a squarely-centered shot of Walter in full control.

Marian Anderson (1897-1993) in 1943 was at the height of her powers; but we hear only 60 seconds of an NBC broadcast. Art Tatum (1909-1956) has even less of a 1943 moment, just a facile run or two and some elegant modulations with a small ensemble. George Gershwin (1899-1937) appears before a 1931 group in a quick burst from I Got Rhythm, just the ending and a bow. Whether the last three items are anything more than sophisticated teasers is a matter of taste. We want more. Generally, video restoration is good, but there are occasional dropouts or static moments traceable to understandable defects in the sources.

— Gary Lemco

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