A Musical Journey - Northern Italy and Sicily
Comprising images of Mantua, Lago di Orta, Cremona, Milan, Etna and Taormina
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C major, Jupiter K. 551 (1788)
Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183 (1773)
Cappella Istropolitana/Barry Wordsworth (from Naxos 8.550113 (1988))
NAXOS DVD 2.110251 [58:32]

What an inspired choice to use these two fine Mozart Symphonies as the musical part of this excellent audio-visual presentation! I guess it would have been easy to have used some impressionistic score with shimmering strings and flute arabesques for Taormina and a Rossini overture for the scenes in Milan. Perhaps a fiddle concerto would have been apposite for Cremona? However, the Mozart music manages to balance the dignity, the grandeur, the subtlety and the classical proportions of most of the scenes chosen for this tour. Additionally, as these two works are so well known: there is no need to have a guilt-trip in only half-listening to the music - the other half of the brain being captivated by the fine images.  

For the record, the Jupiter Symphony was composed in Vienna in August 1788 whilst the earlier Symphony No.25 first saw the light of day in Salzburg in October 1773. The two works are well played on these old-ish (1988) recordings.

The DVD is divided into eight chapters - four for each Symphony. The first group present Mantua, Lago di Orta, Cremona and Milan which are shown with Jupiter as a backdrop and the next four are images of Sicily using Symphony No.25. It is not necessary to give a detailed account of the itinerary, however it is useful to mention a few outstanding moments from what is virtually a continuous highlight!

The town of Cremona, which lies between Milan and Mantua, is famous in the history of violin making. Many famous names had their workshops here including the best known of all, Antonio Stradivari. Fortunately, the craft has not died out: there are still a number of makers ‘plying their trade’.

I enjoyed the scenes of Agrigento in Sicily. This was a sixth century BC Greek settlement where there are the remains of temples dedicated to Hercules, Juno, Olympian Jupiter, Castor and Pollux, and, appropriately for Etna’s island, Vulcan.

And lastly, I enjoyed the wonderful shots of the amphitheatre at Taormina with its tremendous view over the Ionian Sea on Sicily’s east coast. Clearly visible from this vantage point are both the Italian mainland and snow-capped Mount Etna.

All in all, this is a great production: just the sort of thing to put into the DVD player on a freezing cold March day. Lots of interesting places, presented in an artistic manner to the accompaniment of some of the finest music the world has known. As I noted in the companion DVD, Roman Journey, each locality, scene, building or piece of artwork is viewed slowly. Often it is faceted: seen from various angles. It allows the viewer to get to know the topic in some detail. The notes by Keith Anderson on the ‘sights and the sounds’ are also extremely helpful.

My only complaint is that some of the pictures of Sicily are a little cerebral. The Etna footage is impressive - for a Volcanologist - the Taormina shots ideal for the archaeologist or classicist. But how about a few shots of people enjoying themselves - having a glass of Nero d’Avola or a plate of risotto. I went to Taormina in 2005 and enjoyed the sights and the sounds and the food and the drink. It is all part and parcel of the Italian experience. It ought to be reflected.

One last thought. A Mancunian composer and his family lived in Taormina for a few months in 1927. The story goes that John and his wife, Maud, fell out. Hardly unusual, I suppose. However how they made up was spectacular. The children were sat in the Greek amphitheatre and mum and dad approached each other from stage left and stage right and embraced. No doubt to the ringing applause of John Patrick and Marybride.

John France