The Art of Chopin
Directed by Gérald Caillat

Garrick Ohlsson plays the Chopin Concertos
Directed by Sébastian Glas

Bajka [14:18]

Frédéric CHOPIN
Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, op.11 [42.28]
Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor, op.21 [34.27]
Mazurka in C sharp minor, op. 50 no. 3 [5.05]
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic/Antoni Wit
rec. 2009.
Sound format: LPCM stereo; PCM 5.1; DTS 5.1
Picture format: 16:9
Region code: 0
Subtitles: EN, FR, PO, DE, JP
IDEALEAUDIENCE 3078948 [53:00 + 97:00]
Not being very familiar with Chopin’s life, and only slightly familiar with his works, I approached this DVD with a goal of learning more about both. This short documentary (only 53 minutes) opens with a film of Garrick Ohlsson performing at the Warsaw International Chopin Competition in 1970, which he won. Ohlsson discusses this moment that was so important to his career.
It then goes on to discuss Chopin’s life, outlining his early life in Poland, his years in Paris, and the many musicians he came to know there. It recounts how he met and became attached to George Sand. Chopin and Sand went to Majorca in 1838, penniless, sick, and alone, to live in a monastery. In 1839, they returned to France, and for the remaining years of his life, he wrote a great deal of music, according to the narrator, but we don’t find out about the music at all. The film then jumps to 1849, after his break with George Sand, and to Chopin’s death from tuberculosis.
This biographical sketch alternates with discussions with Ohlsson who talks about the music and how it is played. Ohlsson explains how Chopin was a great improviser, and how he spent weeks taking an improvised piece and turning it into a score than sounds extemporaneous, yet that is fixed on paper.
We see films of many well-known pianists performing in the documentary. Ohlsson, both young and contemporary, Evgeny Kissin, both young and more recent, the young and then the older Kristian Zimerman, Ivo Pogorelich, Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter, Yuja Wang, Piotr Anderszewski, the young Murray Perahia, Bella Davidovich, and Arthur Rubinstein. The film also features brief interviews with a number of performers, including Arthur Rubinstein, Bella Davidovich, Evgeny Kissin, Piotr Anderszewski, and Yuja Wang.
Unfortunately, this documentary is far too sketchy to give much understanding of Chopin’s life and works. Much more time is necessary to truly discuss a composer of Chopin’s stature. I doubt this film will be of much interest to those who know a lot about him, with the exception, perhaps, of the archival footage of the many performers shown.
However, the meat of this set is the “bonus” disc, which features Garrick Ohlsson playing Chopin’s two piano concertos. Opening with an orchestral work by Stanislaw Moniuszko, Bajka (The Fairy Tale), the concert continues with Ohlsson playing the two concertos. The performances are lively and balanced, with excellent sound and interesting camera angles. The orchestra is competent, but Ohlsson is clearly in command of these works, and gives wonderful performances.
It’s odd that this set features a lacklustre documentary as the main feature, and a fine concert as a bonus. If you’re a fan of Chopin, you’ll probably be more interested in the concert than the documentary, which is too limited in scope. If you are, as I was, unfamiliar with Chopin’s life, you’ll learn a little but not much more than you’d find in liner notes to a few recordings. In any case, this set is worth getting for the piano concertos, which are fine works indeed.
Kirk McElhearn
A sketchy introduction to a great composer, coupled with a good filmed concert of his piano concertos.