A Musical Journey: Russia and Ukraine
A musical visit to St Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa & the Crimea
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Symphony 5, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit (Naxos 8.550716)
Marche Slave, Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Stephen Gunzenhauser (Naxos 8.550191)
Aspect Ratio 4:3 NTSC No region coding
NAXOS 2.110290 DVD [56:52]
I imagine that the original idea behind the Naxos series of ‘Musical Journeys’ was to popularise further its recordings so it was clever for them to have made films of places that would be of interest either to those contemplating a trip there or as a memento for those who have already been and using their recordings to accompany the film. However, if either of those had been the reason that I had sought this one out I’m not sure that it would have left me as eager with anticipation to visit as much as it should have done or as a fond memory of a holiday. As it is I have been to both St Petersburg and Moscow and can report that this DVD is a catalogue of missed opportunities. We start in St Petersburg with atmospheric scenes of fluttering leaves in the Smolensk Cemetery which is not of particular interest architecturally and move on to the Lomonosov Palace and Gardens, The Hermitage Pavilion Hall with views of the main staircase from several angles and to the Smolny Convent via some shots of the city of St Petersburg during the White Nights with the statue of Peter the Great in silhouette and several of the Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge in various stages of opening. True we see some of the Hermitage/Winter Palace from the river but not much of the magnificent interiors, and no St Peter & Paul Fortress, no Admiralty, no Nevsky Prospect and its wonderful palaces, no St Isaac’s Cathedral or Church on Spilled Blood and no visit to the Summer Palace of Petrodvorets.
St Petersburg is a gorgeous city and, like Venice it was built on a swamp and thus truly miraculous, and because it was meticulously planned by Peter the Great, it is a model town that is ‘all of a piece’ and grand in the true sense of the word but you might not fully appreciate that from this DVD. In Moscow we see a bit more in less time but still there is, I feel, a failure to capture the atmosphere of this intriguing city that is so very different from most of the other European capital cities. What visit to Moscow would not include a look at the Tretyakov Art Gallery for example or views from the Sparrow Hills.
I cannot comment on the section on Ukraine as I’ve only been to Lviv and in any case much of it was related to Pushkin with many representations of his face in paintings or statues plus some views of the Crimea and Odessa. I imagine many Ukrainians would be ready to take issue with the overall impression given that was distinctly lack lustre. The filming dates from 1994 only four years after the collapse of communism so I think that it is high time that the project was undertaken again since there have been many changes and at least superficially things look better than before with much cleaning up having been done. The music itself is treated to very workmanlike accounts in both cases and if people don’t know these famous works I’m sure they could do worse than buy the CDs they are from which at reasonable Naxos prices are always a great place to start exploring great music.
Steve Arloff 

A catalogue of missed opportunities.