MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

alternatively AmazonUK

David Helfgott: A Musical Journey
Part I – A documentary
Edited and presented by Melvyn Bragg
Part II – In Concert 1997, Nottingham, UK
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Andante and Rondo Capriccioso
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Un sospiro; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 23 'Appassionata'
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
The Flight of the Bumblebee
David Helfott (piano)
Picture format NTSC 4:3; Region codes 2,3,4,5; Linear PCM Stereo; Subtitles : English, Deutsch, Espa˝ol, Franšais, Italiano
WARNER MUSIC VISION 3984 20512-2 [94:00]

If you didn’t know already courtesy of the movie Shine, Australian pianist David Helfgott was born of Polish Jewish parents in 1947, studied in London in the late 1960s, suffered a mental breakdown and was rehabilitated in the 1980s. In 1997 he undertook a world tour and Melvyn Bragg made the documentary which takes up about half this disc whilst he was in the UK. The other half is part of a recital given in Nottingham before an enraptured audience.

The very first point which comes across in the documentary is the disparity between the reactions of audiences and most critics to Helfgott’s playing. One of the critics, Andrew Clements, was unable to continuing listening and became a deserter at half-time. But a young-looking Norman Lebrecht, who has certainly unmellowed in the last ten years, comes to Helfgott’s defence. In this respect the documentary does well in teasing out a real dilemma in assessing the pianist’s stature. His coach Peter Feuchtwanger is interviewed and freely admits to his inconsistency. Helfgott’s limitations in coping with larger structures are also demonstrated to us. The principal compensations are here attributed to a spiritual element to his playing but I would suspect that it is Helfgott’s ability to communicate that wins over the audiences. Even that has downsides – his facial expressions and body language mostly do not make for a pleasing visual experience and the sometimes wonderful sounds he conjures from a B÷sendorfer come with vocalisations that would make Glenn Gould’s pale into insignificance. Add to that some notable departures from the scores and frequent major liberties with tempi, and you might indeed wonder if it is worth bothering to listen to the man play. But bear with me a little longer.
The documentary seeks to explore various aspects of Helfgott’s mental state through considering his relationship with his father and also through the eyes of his psychiatrist. The effects of institutionalisation and his treatment are also considered. But unlike Shine, which takes the long journey and touches it up here and there (the extent of that is debated here), most of what you get here is a close-up of a rehabilitated man whose behaviour is nevertheless unusual. His speech is repetitive and the need for physical contact with Bragg and apparent strangers will make many people feel uncomfortable. I rather liked the way he runs onto the stage though!
I take my brief here to be a review of this DVD and not to pronounce on Helfgott as a pianist – there probably isn’t enough evidence provided. The documentary is well-balanced and worth seeing if you are at all interested in what happens when potential genius and mental illness collide. One frustration that probably couldn’t be avoided is the illustrative inter-cutting of snippets of the pianist playing this and that; thus it was essential to couple it with some recital material. The items offered are all interesting to say the least. The Mendelssohn is the most conventional performance whereas both Liszt pieces are very freely interpreted. The Beethoven sonata has passion aplenty and some stature but, like the rest, it is a performance to see and hear once. The Flight of the bumble-bee is an encore and Helfgott played that pretty straight. Listening with the picture turned off is a markedly lesser experience because the visual element is part of what Helfgott communicates and there are times that he clearly was enjoying himself very much. One notion I certainly don’t buy is the idea that he was being exploited by promoters.
There are no extras apart from an essay entitled David Helfgott - The Early Years which is printed on the reverse of the cover and which you can’t detach or read with the disc in place. The print is small and it is difficult to read anyway.
This is a “one-off” which I am glad to have experienced. If you have been interested enough to read this far you probably should see it for yourself but, if possible, borrow rather than buy.
Patrick C Waller




Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing



Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.