This Gitlis release
is from the same batch that has given us the Milstein/Boult
DVD. Gitlis is, of course, almost Milstein’s antipode as a musician
and the two films make for instructive viewing and listening.
That said they really are very different films. Gitlis is seen
in a Bernard Gavoty TV production from a Parisian studio. Credits
roll as he and the doyen of French accompanists, Tasso Janopoulo,
begin to play. The studio is rather artfully stagey - carpets
and tapestries and a Picasso-esque guitar hanging on the wall.
Gitlis stands on one of the luxurious carpets, though he does
some perambulation when things hot up; always though he plays
with his eyes shut. Someone had the good sense to film from
the back as well, so we get some important shots of Gitlis’s
thumb position and the placement of the thumb joint on the violin
neck; this back-of-the- fingerboard work is instructive. During
the Bartók we get a cut to the intently listening Gavoty in
a rather fancy “double exposure” shot – unnecessary but of its
time. Gitlis takes a suitably capricious tempo in the Elgar,
broadening his tone for the espressivo section. His staccatos
are predictably remarkable.
The Wieniawski is
studio-filmed as part of a TV show segment in front of a very
with-it audience; young, restless and ready for Truffaut. Gitlis
looks much more relaxed as well. Back to a carpet swathed studio
for the Saëns-Saëns. Gitlis is now in roll-neck and some ass
has insisted he stands ahead of the piano thus making a better
shot but rendering co-ordination with Georges Pludermacher non-existent.
The Moszkowski and Albéniz come from Guy Béart’s TV arts programme
in 1973. Gitlis’s hair has grown longer with the times; his
sideboards too. The audience is heavily-bearded (male) and mini-skirted
(female) and quite close to the two musicians.
The main meat of
the DVD though is the Tchaikovsky Concerto. The orchestra is
the estre de l’ORTF suffering catatonic boredom under maestro
di maestri Francesco Mander. This gallant gentleman conducts
like a grisly mating of fly fisherman and Valentino-era gigolo.
Spruce, elegant and with a swishing baton that he dips speculatively
toward the serried ranks of French indifference, Mander, when
not thus engaged, conducts with his left hand firmly on his
hip. I studied the band carefully and the only musicians who
show any vestiges of verifiable life are two wind players who
actually move when they play. As for the rest, well, it’s hard
to say. The camera cuts away when Gitlis takes off his mute
in the second movement but is otherwise unobtrusive, one bout
of madly fast left-right panning shot excepted – a sort of speeded
up tennis rally shot of the woodwinds.
There’s a so-called
bonus but a weird one. Firstly I’ve no idea why these are called
“bonuses” as the whole DVD only lasts seventy-five minutes.
And secondly what a strange one. Gitlis is seen in what amounts
to a blackout playing La Campanella from Paganini’s Second
Concerto. The notes say he’s miming but surely not. He’s playing
along to a soundtrack of his recording with the Warsaw National
Philharmonic Orchestra and Stanislaw Wislocki. The soundtrack
is what we actually hear.
So we have here
just over a decade’s worth of Gitlis in a variety of surroundings,
all filmed in black and white. The earliest examples are the
Janopoulo performances from 1962 and the most recent the 1973
Pludermacher. Gitlis is a fascinating figure, often crudely
characterised as a maverick, whereas his thoughtful and inventive-minded
individuality allied to a Huberman-influenced musicianship has
always been at a distinct remove from convention. His many admirers
will welcome these excellent and characteristically idiosyncratic
examples of his art.