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Schubert - Christopher Nupen films
The Trout / The Greatest Love & the Greatest Sorrow

Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman,Jacqueline du Pré, Pinchas Zukerman, Zubin Mehta, Andreas Schmidt, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Michael Sanderling, Antje Weithaas, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/ Wolfgang Sawallisch

Opus Arte OA CN0903 D [181 mins]

These two Christopher Nupen films are both compelling in different ways. The Trout is a classic TV film (1969) which celebrates the young musician friends who became super-stars and - because of her tragic illness - Jacqueline du Pré an enduring legend. The interest is more in the personalities than the actual performance; there are others better in the catalogue.

The Greatest Love & the Greatest Sorrow (? date made, Winner of the Czech Crystal Award, Prague 1994) is an ambitious and brave depiction, mainly through Schubert's late music, of the sadness of the composer's last 20 months. Nupen seeks to refute Grillparzer's notion in his epitaph for Schubert that the composer died with 'far fairer hopes' unfulfilled than the actual achievements of his short life. I am not convinced that he proves his thesis - one can never know whether a longer-lived Schubert would have continued to evolve like a Verdi or whether his inspiration would have burnt out prematurely, like Rossini who lived long, resting on his laurels.

Nupen's title comes from a dream which Schubert wrote down, and which is quoted in full in the film. Nupen is brave in the selection of music examples, mostly sad and slow, filmed with a minimum of camera movement which today's restless producers and cameramen should ponder. The steady unblinking gaze of Andreas Schmidt singing straight into a static camera is a moving image in a notable and personal film.

Haydn String Quartets; The Lindsays
with film 4 better 4 worse
Opus Arte OA 0920 D [224 mins]

The prevailing style, which can make some TV concert transmissions unwatchable, is epitomised at its worst in Opus Arte's DVD of seven representative Haydn quartets from Op 20 to Op 76, spoiling what might have been a valuable record of The Lindsays towards the end of their joint career.

My feeling is that the emphasis in this release is wrong; the "extra", Reiner Moritz's film 4 better 4 worse is absorbing and the camera ranging amongst the members of four different string quartets, different in origins and attitudes, is entirely acceptable as they practise and ruminate, with many a bon mot on the way . There is, perhaps inevitably, a little too much duplication in what they have to say, much of it adumbrated by The Lindsays early on.

Peter Cropper is fluent and eloquent; Peter Gregor-Smith has the most thoughtful contributions to offer. There are rehearsal excerpts by several other quartets at the festival, with some slight embarrassment displayed because of the rather artificial format in which each player has a solo spot to voice his/her thoughts. I enjoyed most of those the Belgian Danel Quartet's rehearsal in which is explained and demonstrated how responsibilities can be shared, the lower three musicians taking care of the rhythm and beat so that the leader can 'sing' Mendelssohn's melody more freely.

But the same method of filming through the live festival performances of the Haydn quartets is to my mind disastrous. Moritz (if he is responsible?) has the producer twitching camera angles minute by minute, even more than The Lindsays' loveable but un-photogenic leader Peter Cropper's "expressive grimaces". Those are no problem in concert, you look as often and as intently as you wish at the players, but the continual close ups of each ageing Lindsay face, and of their strings and the very hairs of their bows, do no favours to anyone and are continually distracting from the music; it is unsettling, as a putative listener in the hall to be swept up and down from stalls to circle and rotated whilst Haydn's music proceeds more or less imperturbably.

More or less for, as Peter Gregor-Smith succinctly puts it, the first problem for a string quartet is intonation and, after all the others have been solved, the remaining last one is - intonation! And there's the rub in these live filmings of the Lindsays; for Lindsays' devotees, and general listeners not too sure about chamber music, there is a lot to learn and enjoy, but whether the film or the recitals will hold attention for re-viewing and repeated listening is more questionable. On my equipment you can mute the sound but not hide the picture, so I will not be returning to this release.

Reiner Moritz believes that these 2004 filmings at Kuhmo will ensure The Lindsay's 'presence in the audiovisual media' for the foreseeable future. With the good taste Nupen displays in his Schubert film that might have been so; Moritz and producer Tim Coates have a lot to answer for and I cannot recommend this travesty of what a more modest approach could have achieved for this well loved string quartet at the end of their long professional relationship. A technical approach they might have considered would have been to offer the viewer choice of several camera positions as in the admirable Beethoven Piano Concerto series (Ambroisie Interactive AMI 99403002).

You can get more information from Opus Arte's website, with full track listing and, to help you decide whether the Lindsays Haydn double-DVD is for you, see a short clip there.


© Peter Grahame Woolf