Chopin was the son of a French father and a Polish mother. He
spent his early life in Poland before leaving in 1830, setting
up home in Paris the following year where he died in 1849. His
so-called first piano concerto is the second of two the composer
wrote. It was premiered in Warsaw at the last concert Chopin
gave in the country of his birth. Following the example of other
distinguished composer-pianists of the period, Chopin provides
a work in which the orchestra, after an opening extended orchestral
exposition, serves as a supporting background to the solo piano.
The playing of the Turkish pianist Idil Biret is a pleasant well-recorded
background to this tour of several French regions. If she lacks
the élan of Pollini or the fire of Argerich, hers is a
technically and artistically ideal accompaniment to this venture
that is more concerned with displaying the visual glories and
the diversity of France than the composer’s music. The
opening (CH.1) is, inevitably, concerned with the Paris. It opens
with the architecturally glorious Opéra Garnier as a fine
starter before a journey down the Champs Elysées and on
to the Châtelet. The Jardins du Luxembourg has the tombs
of Chopin and Haussman. The latter did so much to develop Paris
in the Second Empire with its grand boulevards around the Opéra
Garnier. One of the grandest which bears his name as well as
the frontage for the renowned Galerie Lafayette, not featured,
and its magnificent dome.
The journey then goes southward to the vineyards of Burgundy
with an opening view of the great, and magnificently located,
basilica at Vezelay (CH.2) whose ornate interior also features.
As well as the vineyards the unusual patterned roofs as well
as the interior of the Hospice de Beaune are a glory here. Chapter
3 moves us further south taking in Arles on a fête day
with the Roman Arena, smaller than that at Nimes, being featured
as well as the Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct. A visit to the Camargue
takes in the black bulls that also appear fearlessly in the amphitheatre.
They are as likely to exit by jumping over the doors to their
quarters as gore any picador. The nearby eroded bauxite rocks
that harbour the Théâtre des Images are shown but
not that particular feature.
Chapter 4 moves the viewer north to the Comté taking in
its characterful countryside as well as the unusual features
of the Arc et Sénans and the salt lakes before moving
on (CH.5) to the region of the lower Loire and its bastides and
châteaux. These include the famous ones at Azay le Rideau
and Chenonceau. This is where the lack of any narrative on the
screen is an even greater disadvantage to those who do not know
the sites. Of value too would have been a brief comment on the
special history of Chenonceau as the boundary between ‘free’ or ‘Vichy
France’ and ‘occupied or German-controlled France’ in
the Second World War.
The concluding Chapter (7) takes in Brittany and Normandy. St
Malo and La Baule are shown; also the saltpans near Le Croisic.
Inevitably, the tourist honey-pot of Mont Saint Michel features
whilst the landing beaches at Arromanches, Omaha and Utah do
not - a pity.
The photography is excellent but France and Chopin? There is
no visit to the Limousin and particularly the characterful village
of Gargilesse-Dampière where the composer conducted his
affair with the novelist Georges Sands and which drew many painters
including Claude Monet and Théodore Rousseau.
Robert J Farr