American Record Guide
, December 2008
Wow! This is a video collection for the piano connoisseur! …2-½ hours of performances that are all on an exceptionally high level. Mostly black-and-white, these were all made from 1965 to 1969 when Weissenberg was 35 to 40 years old. He was a major prize winner while still in his teens and began his professional career in the late 1940s, only to partly retire in the mid-1950s. After military service and further studies in many fields, he began to reactivate his career in the early 1960s.
The film of Three Movements from Petrouchka was, and still is, one of the most remarkable classical music films ever made, and very important to his re-emergence as a major world class pianist. It owes something to Fantasia, not with Mickey shaking hands with Stokowski, but in the silhouetted musicians performing. Here we are treated to some incredible camera angles—under the keyboard, looking up between the arms into the face of Weissenberg! There are also some amazing close-ups of both his hands and the inside of the piano. Only after watching the bonus 11-minute interview discussing what went on in the days this 15 minute film took to produce did everything become clear. He recorded Petrouchka and then it was played over loudspeakers in the studio. A specially built silent piano was used and it took hours of practice to synchronize his filmed playing with the prerecorded sounds. This setup allowed the cameras to get all of those unusual angles. In fact, in 1966, when Herbert Von Karajan was looking for a film director to do a Tchaikovsky Concerto planned for the following year, he was shown this Petrouchka by Ake Falck (an assistant to Ingmar Bergman). It landed Falck the job, and Weissenberg was also hired as the pianist.
The other works here are a pretty good overview of Weissenberg’s pianism. All are much simpler films broadcast on French TV. I particularly enjoyed the Scriabin Nocturne for the left hand, the Largo from Chopin’s Sonata 3 and the Bach Chromatic Fantasy. All made me wish for the complete works. There is no indication whether or not the complete works were even recorded.
The Brahms Concerto 2 is complete—and a super performance recorded at Salle Pleyel in Paris on a very hot August 31, 1969. If you really want to see the performers sweat, this is your opportunity. Both Weissenberg and Prêtre must have lost weight in the course of this powerful performance. This is the Weissenberg I remembered from my first hearing of his artistry in concert (1971-72 season, Rachmaninoff 3, under Michael Tilson Thomas). I am also reminded of one reference in Time magazine, somewhere in the late 1960s, that a movie on the life of Rachmaninoff was being planned and Weissenberg was slated to be cast as the Russian composer. The physical characteristics are close enough to have worked, but I never heard about it again. No doubt these televised performances had some role in his consideration for the part. This is the kind of top-notch production that makes one thankful for modern technology and artistic talent in the production arena.