This is one of the
latest in the Classic Archive DVD series and I whiled away a
good five minutes trying to work out a rationale for the contents
of this Legendary British Performers release. Not that
I’m ungrateful – far from it. You’d have to be mad to spurn
one of the rare opportunities to see Solomon as indeed you would
to see Myra Hess in 1954 – that’s to say not the familiar earlier
film footage of her - but see the caveat below regarding the
Hess film. And then there’s some coruscating pianism from a
very different musician, John Ogdon. There’s Deller the Magnificent
with his son Mark and lutenist and guitarist Desmond Dupré.
Britten and Pears appear together and the former joins those
superb string players Hurwitz, Aronowitz and Weil in Mozart.
Naturally Jacqueline du Pré is here as well, accompanied by
her mother Iris in a 1962 broadcast. Which leaves only Barbirolli
So this is frankly
a rag, tag and bobtail collection. We have one conductor, one
composer/pianist, a tenor, three pianists and a counter-tenor.
has already been released in this series. It would have
made sense to conjoin it with this Schubert so ultra rare is
film footage of him. Instead the collector will now have to
harness this to a Serkin DVD to get the “Complete” Solomon.
Barmy from that perspective, of course. The intro titles are
in quaint 1950s style and the picture is slightly fuzzy but
Solomon is Solomon.
The Hess footage
is unfortunately compromised by the sound. There’s a considerable
amount of wow and with the grainy 1954 picture this is something
of a trial for all but the most hardened of admirers. Held chords
suffer unmercifully. The slow tracking shots are sensitively
done, Hess’s noble self as sympathetic as ever, and the playing
unaffected and fine. But the film damage also includes flickering
and fading over an already touch-and-go picture. Be warned –
this is the most compromised of the films and the routine disclaimer
on the box should perhaps have gone into this particular case
in considerably greater depth.
Ogdon is also filmed
in black and white. The camera work is similarly autocratic
though simple and untricksy. A few shots are “face on” and there
seems to have been at least one crane-tracking shot. His playing
The Dellers appear
in an informal Parisian setting – jacket and tie and roll neck
sweater ensemble. There is some clever camera work that manages
to superimpose Alfred Deller and Desmond Dupré’s lute in the
Rosseter. They acknowledge the studio audience’s applause with
a certain awkward intimacy. Mark keeps a watchful eye on his
father when tricky entrances are in the offing.
Britten and Pears
appear in jumpers, Pears behind the piano and looking relaxed.
He sings The Shooting of his Dear solo and with tremendous
artistry. Britten joins his string colleagues for the Andante
from K478. The director obviously considered this a solo performance
with minimal intrusion from the other three. Fair enough, I
suppose, if you want to capture every speck of Britten’s august
pianism – but rather inconsiderate to the string players and
to Mozart as well. One delightful touch – a broad grin between
Pears and Britten as the former hands the latter the score of
The Plough Boy.
Du Pré’s footage
is early – 1962. The first thing one notices is the gown – and
then the raised platform on which she sits and the air of patrician
elevation of the whole scene. This is a rather self-consciously
formal affair, reeking of class – though that’s hardly the fault
of the musicians and anyway would that we had programmes like
And finally we have
the variously gymnastic, pugilistic and fulsomely camp conducting
of Barbirolli in the Scherzo capriccioso in the Manchester
Free Trade Hall in 1962. This has it all, starting with a weird
orchestral lay-out with the band miles from the rostrum and
the solo harp marooned in front of him. JB indulges knee bends
– a touch of shadow boxing perhaps – and generally hamming it
up something rotten for the middle-aged ladies with hats in
the audience. To be fair to JB the audience seems to consist
of nothing but middle-aged ladies in hats.
Let’s not worry
about the “legendary” appellation. But, really, what a strange
collection. The Solomon and Hess items should have been rationalised
together. The Ogdon should go in an all-Ogdon DVD. Barbirolli
deserves his own disc as well. We should have a Deller release
comparable to the new Russell Oberlin DVD – I assume there’s
enough footage of Deller. Lumping together this stuff looks
like Anglo off-cuts. Or do the powers that be think that this
is the only way to present this material?
As I said I’m grateful
to have it but I’m sure it should have been done differently
– and better.