Naxos Musical Journeys: Italy - A tour of Tuscany, Umbria and Rome
with music by Felix Bartholdy MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 4 in A major (1830-31)
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Anthony Bramall
(issued on Naxos CD 8.55055 with A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Violin Concerto in E minor (1844)
Takako Nishizaki (violin)
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Kenneth Jean
(issued on Naxos CD 8.550153 with the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto)
Reissue – originally released in 1991.
NAXOS DVD 2.110276 [57:47]
This series of Naxos Musical Journeys is well established. In fact readers should be aware, as noted in the heading above, that this is a reissue of a 1991 release.
Having seen a good few of these Naxos ‘travelogues with music’ I have come away with decidedly mixed feelings. Only a few have been entirely successful. Many have had faults mostly through either inappropriate or uninteresting photography or unsuitable music, or inappropriate music editing to fit on-screen images.
I remember one example of the genre perfectly. This was an early CinemaScope film. 20th Century Fox were very keen to exploit their wide-screen format and its accompanying stereophonic sound. The main film was Three Coins in the Fountain but the supporting feature was a splendidly filmed train journey from the North (Milan or Genoa as far as I can remember) southwards to Naples via Rome. Its accompanying music was Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien and how well that music fitted the images. I wonder if 20th Century Fox still have that little film in its archives?
This film opens with the Allegro vivace opening movement of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony to pictures of Orvieto, Lake Bolsena and the Tuscany landscape. At the opening of the chapter, this exhilarating music underpins mainly static views of the hill town and surrounding countryside save for trees swaying in the wind and billowing washing lines. Even though this episode inclines to outstay its welcome, it has to be said that the photography is appealing and the colours rich. The Andante con moto, second movement has scenes in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. The slower tempi and sense of grandeur fit these pictures of the ancient ruins well. The Con moto moderato movement is heard for scenes in Montalcino: the surrounding landscape and the Church of Sant’Antonio. Again one might argue that this joyful, fairly speedy secular-sounding music does not fit too comfortably with the church images and only reasonably well with the landscapes.
The final Saltarello: Presto fits with scenes in Rome and works well enough when there is plenty of movement - traffic or people or fleeter camera-work. You see scenes around the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, St Peter’s, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, Trastavere (I think), Piazza Navona and the Victor Emmanuel Monument. Yet there is still a tendency to linger longer than necessary. Did we really need to spend so much time looking at the flight of flocks of starlings flying against an evening sky?
The other Mendelssohn work, his Violin Concerto is played against the landscape of Montepulciano, Florence and Siena. Here we see ad infinitum evening clouds against the opening movement of the Violin Concerto There are after-dark shots of Siena with floodlit cathedral, squares and busy streets. Morning mists shroud then slowly lift against the backdrop of the Concerto’s slow movement. The livelier Florence section includes shots of the jewellers’ shops on the Ponte Vecchio, and the Cathedral with Ghiberti’s wonderful bronze Baptistry doors.
The music performances are attractive ignoring the often shaky horns in the Symphony.
Much wasted opportunity.
Much wasted opportunity.