> A Queen's Competition []: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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A Queen's Competition
A documentary film by Michel Stockhem and Benoît Vlietinck.
DVD. Running time: 99 minutes

CYPRES CYP1103.

Cypres

This is an invariably interesting and informative documentary of the history of the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition. Although done with the support of the Competition offices, it is not uncritical in its treatment of the 50-year history of the modern competition. With the extensive file footage, you can relive the moment of victory of some of the most important musical figures of recent years and hear comments of jury members like David Oistrakh, Yehudi Menuhin, and Isaac Stern.

This annual festival, held in Brussels, received the support of the Belgian Queen, Elizabeth, who had a long history of support for the musical arts, when it was reformed in 1951 as a successor to the pre-war Eugène Ysaÿe Competition. The history is coloured by Cold-War politics during the 1950s, 60s and 70s but gives fascinating images of many of today's leading artists when they were in competition.

These images receive the bulk of the attention, rather than any sustained look at music making. You just get a glimpse, for example, of Gidon Kremer playing brilliantly a bit of a Ysaÿe sonata or Malcolm Frager with a morsel of a Prokofiev Concerto. Much of my enjoyment was in seeing legends like Vladimir Ashkenazy or Philippe Entremont when they were still teenagers.

They did not avoid discussions of the problems with this competition, and competitions in general. Often the First Prize winner is now a relative unknown and you find the more famous figures further down the list. For example, in the year Philippe Hirshhorn won, Elizabeth Leonskaja placed ninth! However, she was still ahead of 19-year-old Mitsuko Uchida who was tenth! In choosing the film footage, they did not avoid criticism. There was a bit with a member of the prize jury, the great violinist Arthur Grumiaux, who is heard denouncing the nature of competitions as becoming a kind of sport.

There was also consideration of the East-West conflict and how the Soviet delegations always sent their strongest competitors who often won First Prize. Problems arose when the winning artists defected to the West or, contrarily, returned to Moscow and were never seen again on Western stages.

For those who want to hear these fine artists in full-length pieces, there is a 12 CD set associated with this release with complete performances of the winners. This should be available for order, as is this DVD, at your local music store or from www.cypres-records.com. The language options are French and Dutch but you can have subtitles in English, German or Spanish. The DVD sound is, in the more recent film recordings of this competition, of CD quality. Much of the footage is, however, in black and white and the sound is, of course, monaural.

For those who are interested in getting an inside look at a world-famous competition and seeing, while they were young, many of the dominate performers of the last 50 years, this is a film that bears repeated viewing.

Frank Cadenhead


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