Lovers of historic performances on film have had an increasingly
good time of it in the last decade. Various archives and television
companies have been opening up their heirlooms and culture-minded
satellite broadcasters – German as often or not – have shown
an exceptional amount of rare film. So we live in fortunate
times, even if what remains reminds us of the vast amount that
was lost or never recorded in the first place.
has had the savvy idea to collate some famous films. I last
saw the Feuermann on a Cello Classics release. The Hofmann
Rachmaninoff was on the Art of Piano DVD though I’ve never
before seen the abridged Emperor Concerto with Voorhees, though
doubtless it’s done the rounds. The Weingartner was on the
Art of Conducting and I saw the Bruno Walter-Weber last on
Bel Canto’s Great Conductors Volume 1. The very brief excerpts
of Marian Anderson, George Gershwin and Art Tatum have made
appearances on television over the years – you can never forget
Gershwin’s swaggering grin as he dismounts after I Got Rhythm.
Which leaves the big rarity, though of a musician of a much
later generation; Mindru Katz. This was taped as late as 1978.
Feuermann is shown
in Popper and Dvořák. As ever he is imperturbable, impassive,
amazing. The camera angles are rather tricksy – close-ups
of the fingerboard for example - and directly over the cellist’s
left shoulder. One watches the bewildering left hand work
raptly and – little miracle – in the Rondo Feuermann even,
just slightly, raises his left heel in excitement! His accompanist
– and the word is appropriate here – is the distant, semi
audible Theodore Saidenberg in this 1941 performance. A year
later Feuermann was dead.
Hofmann is captured
during his years of decline. The first piece is a Voorhees
sanctioned abridgement of the finale of the E flat major Beethoven
concerto. Shots here are sometimes overhead, looking down,
a startling bird’s eye view of the keyboard as we watch Hofmann’s
stubby fingers course across it. Rather fascinating to watch
the great man in collaboration with the Bell Telephone Hour
maestro. The applause at the end of what I assume was a studio
film, sounds dubbed in to me. The Rachmaninoff moves disconcertingly
from the orchestral backing in the Beethoven to a solo performance
– so presumably to give the impression of an encore after
the concerto. It doesn’t work – but never mind.
There is a brace
of conductors in well-loved performances. Weingartner is his
usual self-effacing self in Paris in 1932 but he is a master
of economy and efficiency with a baton technique that reveals
all that’s necessary to cue entries, enforce the rhythmic
basis of the music making and bring out expressive moments.
Bruno Walter is heard in less than optimum sound and vision
but this 1931 Berlin film offers compensations. Walter is
on splendid form encouraging some suavely sensitive phrasing
from the band, amongst whose serried ranks must be Szymon
Goldberg – then just about ready to supplant Henry Holst as
concertmaster. Not easy to make out individual faces though.
Mindu Katz was
taped in Istanbul in 1978 playing the Moonlight Sonata and
the Op.10 No.3 Chopin Etude. Like the companion films this
is in black and white and there are blips and drop outs on
the audio tracks, which is also “noisy” rather as if there
was inherent rumble. He is seated in an empty concert hall
in tie and tails. Despite the rather imperfect nature of the
recording we can still appreciate the level of artistry, the
profound sensitivity to production and layering of sound,
evinced by Katz. It’s playing of rare sensitivity and insight,
confirmed by his Chopin, which is highly reflective. Only
a few hours later Katz died of a heart attack during the evening’s
recital in Istanbul. He was fifty-three.
The trio of other
items are pleasurable extras, even if they’re very brief.
There’s a helpful
booklet and DVD navigation is perfectly straightforward. Inquisitive,
visually minded souls should seek out these films.