Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Rachmaninov's Letters and other reminiscences spoken by
Sir John Gielgud

Specially commissioned performances conducted by Valery Gergiev
Directed by Tony Palmer
Published in 1998/99.
WARNER MUSIC/NVC Arts Video 3984-25386-3 [102 mins]

This video was a most welcome Christmas present for I missed the programme when it was originally broadcast on TV. This excellent documentary shot in Russia Switzerland and America was made with the full participation of the composer's grandson Alexander Rachmaninov. He is seen being welcomed to the restored country house at Ivanovka south of Moscow where Rachmaninov had composed all his greatest music but which had been looted and torched by revolutionaries.

Featuring soloists Mikhail Pletnev (with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado and his own Russian National Orchestra) as well as Dmitri Hvorostovsky and rising young stars, Valentina Igoshina (piano), Peter Jablonski (piano) and Nikolai Putilin (bass), the music was specially recorded by Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra and Choir at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg with which Rachmaninov himself was intimately associated. Excerpts from many Rachmaninov works are featured including: the three symphonies, Piano Concertos 2 and 3 and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Isle of the Dead; Symphonic Dances; Aleko; The Miserly Knight; The Dream; Christ is Risen; Liturgy of St John Chrysostom; Variations on a Theme of Corelli and the Preludes in C sharp minor, G minor, and B minor.

The film traces the composer's life in Russia, his early struggles and successes before fleeing from his beloved homeland in 1917 never to return; his career as concert pianist and conductor, necessitated to support his family; and his late compositions inspired by Senar, his idyllic home near Lucerne, that he had to flee for Los Angeles during World War II. Rachmaninov's own words are spoken by Sir John Gielgud who occasionally sounds just a bit too deliberate and affected for my taste. There are many, many interesting photographs and professional and home movie film footage of the composer and comments from others of his descendants.

This is a well-rounded portrait of a warm, generous man who contrary to received impressions seems to have had a great sense of humour and who enjoyed the good things of life like fast cars and boats etc., rather than being perpetually morose and obsessively concerned with death. This video is strongly recommended for all admirers of Rachmaninov.

Ian Lace

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