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A Trail on the Water: Abbado. Nono. Pollini
A film by Bettina Ehrhardt and Wolfgang Schreiber.
with Claudio Abbado, Maurizio Pollini, Nuria Schoenberg Nono, Alvise Vidolin and André Richard, the Arnold Schoenberg Choir/Erwin Ortner; the Experimentalstudio of the Heinrich Strobel Foundation and the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Includes live-music excerpts from Nono: ... Sofferte onde serene ... and Frammento dal Prometeo, Schumann Piano Concerto, Schoenberg Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5. Marenzio Il non libro de madrigali and Mahler Symphony No. 9. Concludes with a performance of ... sofferte ondo serene ... from the Mozarteum, Salzburg in August 1999.
Dolby Digital 2.0. PCM Stereo. 16:9 Anamorphic. Region Code 0 (worldwide). DVD 5.

A tremendous film, one that reminds us that there is an art to the making of documentaries. There is certainly art to the camera-work here, for how else could at least some of the magic of Venice come across so strongly? The film documents the friendship between Nono, Abbado and Pollini, a formidable triumvirate. It makes for fascinating viewing, although it is to the 'bonus’ that I will return most frequently. This is a live performance of ... sofferte onde serene ... from Salzburg; it’s gripping from first to last. Some readers may recall Pollini's DG recordings of this, and of Como una ola de fuerza y luz.

The first thing to strike the viewer is the crystal clarity of image, something that enhances rather than detracts from the atmosphere. There is a touching quote from Nono that 'someday I'll write a little piece for piano and orchestra for the two of you'. The three were friends for life, and the post-Nono continuation of this relationship is evidenced by a rehearsal of the first movement of the Schumann Piano Concerto in Carnegie Hall, New York; Schoenberg's Pelleas was in the second half. Interesting how Abbado smiles a lot ... as opposed to Pollini.

Pollini waxing lyrical about Nono leads to some stunning shots of Venice, the city so beloved of Nono. We hear about the 'sound spaces' of Venice and how he 'hears the colour of the water' - how beautiful is that!

Nuria Nono provides the link with the Schoenberg of course. Nono married Schoenberg's daughter, who interestingly only speaks in German. Shots of Abbado conducting Pelleas in rehearsal seem just right. And of course politics is considered – 'Nono composed with the sounds of the street, a political space'.

... sofferte onde serene ... forms part of the narrative of the film - as well as being presented complete in appendix - as does the great Prometeo, excerpted here in the context of St Mark's Basilica, a study in the very nature of sound itself. This is wonderful music. Interesting also to see Pollini's affection for the madrigals of Marenzio; we see him attending a rehearsal for a concert in a festival he designed. Along with Frescobaldi, Marenzio was one of the great experimenters with chromaticism.

And then of course there’s Mahler. The description of the opening of the First Symphony as sound just discovered is a poignant one; the section of the film entitled, 'Nono and Mahler – Silence in music'. The Ninth and Tenth symphonies come under scrutiny as does death - inevitable here - and the correlation of the role of silence in Mahler and Nono.

The live performance of ... sofferte ... is tremendous. The audience sounds either very distant or very sparse! It is good we can watch, as it makes it easy to distinguish what is pre-recorded and what is not. We are also presented with parts of the manuscript as the work progresses ... and at the very end. It is notable that whatever the disjunct intervals (the sforzati) there is a clear lyric impulse underpinning all. This is nowhere more so than around the fourteen-minute mark, possibly the score's most haunting moment.

A DVD to treasure, and one that is of real documentary importance. May it win many converts to Nono.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Anne Ozorio

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