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June 2006 Film Music DVD Review

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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DVD Review

A Night of Rhythm and Dance 
  Kent Nagano conducting the Berliner Philharminiker
Rec. Live from the Waldbühner, Berlin 25 June 2000
Featured Composers/Pieces:
Zhao JIPING (b. 1954) - Farewell My Concubine: Suite for Orchestra from the film score [17:31]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) - Songs: Fascinating Rhythm [2:58]; The Man I Love [4:34]; Nice Work If You Can Get It [2:41]; Someone To Watch Over Me [4:30]; Summertime [6:55]; I Got Rhythm [5:15] - Sung by Susan Graham
Jean-Paul BEINTUS (b.1966) - He Got Rhythm (Homage to George Gershwin) [8:16] - Mario & Momo Kodama (pianos)
Eitetsu HAYASHI (b. 1952) - Utage - Eitetsu Hayashi (wadaiko)
Isao MATSUSHITA (b. 1951) - Hi-Ten-Yu - Eitetsu Hayashi (wadaiko)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) - La Valse (1919-20) [13:16]; Daphnis et Cloé: Suite No. 2 (1913) [16:16]
  Available on Euroarts Invitation (2050526)
Running Time: 112 minutes

Exoticism won over traditionalism at this concert, conducted by the Japanese-American maestro, Kent Nagano. One of the joys of the program was the performance of a suite from Zhao Jiping’s sublime Farewell My Concubine film score, featuring a small orchestra of ethnic Far Eastern instruments and soprano soloist, placed in front of the Berlin Philharmoniker. (EuroArts’ minimal notes – just half a page – might have assisted with identifying these performers and their instruments.) The ethnic instruments enhanced the music considerably, adding dimension and character to the texture. The music has a haunting pathos, and excitement, in the form of a thunderous gallop, and a most appealing Late Romantic-like coda that might have been penned by Steiner or Korngold.

The orchestra, viewed from an outdoor audience’s perspective in Berlin’s Waldbühne, was dominated by a huge drum poised vertically and centred above and to the rear of the players.  This gigantic drum was, undoubtedly, the star attraction of this colourful, cosmopolitan concert. It was poised as though to summon King Kong, and it figured prominently in both Isao Matsushita’s Hi-Ten-Yu (Fly-Heaven-Play), a concerto for drums and orchestra, and Eitetsu Hayashi’s Utage.  (Again, the notes give little or no detail of the works performed.) We are told that “Eitetsu Hayashi is a famous master of wadaiko, the traditional art of Japanese drumming.”

Hi-Ten-Yu began softly with a deep rumble from the huge drum and some virtuoso playing on a large array of assorted drums spread across from the orchestra’s percussion section. Matsushita’s orchestration also kept the Berlin Philharmoniker’s percussion busy. I will draw a veil over the cacophony that was Matsushita’s modernistic writing for the orchestra; this clearly left the audience bemused. More striking was the amazing extended cadenza, played solely on that imposing drum. It reawakened the audience and had them giving Eitetsu Hayashi a standing ovation for his amazing performance, coaxing both thunder and delicacy from his instrument. Utage was another item performed on the big drum that riveted audience attention. 

The main attraction for many will have been the appearance of the American mezzo-soprano, Susan Graham, singing six George Gershwin melodies: Fascinatin’ Rhythm; The Man I Love; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Someone To Watch Over Me; Summertime; and I Got Rhythm.  Cross-over singing can have its drawbacks and I have to report that I was not completely won over by Ms Graham’s way with Gershwin. Sometimes I was too aware of the performer’s vocal dexterity at the expense of the line of the song; but having said that she certainly was animated and expressive. (And maybe I am overly conscious of the great Ella Fitzgerald’s performances?)

Of the other items in the concert: Sisters Mari and Momo Kodama made exciting and lyrical soloists in French composer, Jean-Pascal Beintus’s brief He Got Rhythm (Hommage à George Gershwin). Also Nagano led the orchestra in a performance of Ravel’s La Valse that accentuated not only the lilts but also the sardonic, satirical aspects of the work. His Daphnis and Chloé was scintillating and exciting.

A concert dominated and highlighted by Far Eastern music that thrilled and fascinated.

Ian Lace

Rating: N/A

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