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Recordings of the Month


piano music Vol 4


Songs of Love and Sorrow

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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893) Romeo and Juliet (1869-1880)* Souvenir de Florence Op. 70 (1869)** Capriccio italien Op. 45 (1880)***
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Stephen Gunzenhauser (from Naxos 8.550030 nla)*,***
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Stephen Gunzenhauser (from Naxos 8.550030 nla)*,***
Vienna Chamber Orchestra/Philippe Entremont (from Naxos 8.550404)**
Picture Format 4:3. No Region Code
NAXOS 2.110253 [72:12]

Experience Classicsonline

It's important to be clear just what this DVD is; and what it's not. It's not a documentary about Italy, the three cities featured in it (Verona, Florence and Naples), nor an attempt to feature music which originated there. It's in no way a serious performance or concert of the works of Italian composers. Neither, though, is it a shabby travelogue.

A Musical Journey Italy is a sumptuously-shot and expertly-edited collection of short sequences of some of the most beautiful and visually stimulating locations in those three cities to the (essentially unconnected) music of Tchaikovsky - although his love of Italy and time spent there are evident links.

If you want recordings of the three pieces played here, Romeo and Juliet, Souvenir de Florence, and Capriccio italien, then the current catalogue is full of them. Here we have three such from existing Naxos releases. They're competent and at times inspiring interpretations: the Souvenir de Florence with Vienna Chamber Orchestra under Philippe Entremont (from 8.550404) is the most persuasive of the three.

But the music doesn't need the visual 'commentary', nice though that is. Nor, really, do the sequences of Verona in the north, Florence in Tuscany and Naples in the south of Italy benefit a great deal from Tchaikovsky's music. Preferable would have been music which originated in those three cities - perhaps associated with the birth of opera and its early flowering Jacopo Peri, Giulio Caccini, Alessandro Scarlatti and Pergolesi.

Not to criticise the DVD unduly for what it is not, though, its visual appeal is significant. And for the price this is a pleasing product. Although there are perhaps a few too many droplets of water coming in (and out) of focus, the sequencing is largely less self-conscious, and the speed of the 'panning' adequate to appreciate the splendour of these three beautiful places - and the countryside around them. The colour is rich and realistic.

The subjects illustrating that splendour have been expertly chosen - with the exception of too great an emphasis on the spurious connection between Verona and Shakespeare: the tombs and balconies are modern inventions or additions! Nor do (short) sequences of street signs with Shakespearean associations mean very much. Florence at night is an interesting idea - and well done.

One does get the idea that the unnamed director is trying to say more than the overall impact of the audio-visual sequences actually communicate there is a shot through a window of a girl in a tutu practising simple ballet movements, for example; on the other hand, the earthiness of Naples is well and candidly conveyed.

The sheet that comes with the DVD deals with each of the seven chapters by outlining a little of the history and context of the place featured (Florence gets four chapters); then a much shorter description of the music chosen to accompany the scenes. This DVD can be found new for under 10. Given everything it contains, that's good value. But be aware that it's something of a collage; not a pastiche - but still less a serious study of either the music or places which it features.

Mark Sealey


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