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
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
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