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International Piano, January 2011

There is so much to enjoy here. The Art of Chopin succeeds in combining a biographical approach to Chopin’s life while brining the music to life, incorporating sizeable segments of his work together with discussions about piano technique and the instruments on which Chopin performed, Garrick Ohlsson is the more prominent of the commentators, as genial and self-effacing in person as he is a pianist, and he is the ideal host. Winner of the Chopin Competition back in 1970, Ohlsson has also recently recorded some of Chopin’s works on original instruments, and he is fascinating on this as well as other technical aspects: these include a discussion of Horowitz’s playing of the Etude in F major op. 10 no. 8 together with a slow motion clip of Horowitz’s hands in action, demonstrating the absolute relaxed control of the master at work.

The footage is fabulous, mostly taken from the Warsaw Competition itself with Argerich in the closing pages of the Third Scherzo; Pogorelich imperious in the F sharp minor Mazurka op. 59 no. 3; Zimerman being carried aloft after his sensational win in 1975; and there’s also Pollini, Perahia, Davidovich, Kissin, Yuja Wang, Anderszewski…it’s a veritable roll-call of the very finest Chopin interpreters. If there is one fault, it is that, at a mere 53 minutes, it’s too short. The bonus DVD features the concertos played by Garrick Ohlsson and the Warsaw Philharmonic under the baton of Antoni Wit, both wonderful interpretations, but it’s curious that also included is Stanislaw Moniaszko’s 15-minute overture Bajka (The Fairy Tale), when more Chopin would have been welcome and wholly appropriate.



Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, January 2011

Fresh off the production line (the concert was given August 29, 2009, and I’m reviewing the disc on August 21, 2010) is this tasteful and interesting film-concert combination honoring the life and music of Frédéric Chopin. Not being a Chopin maven, despite liking a great deal of his music, I was unaware that he was born to parents who had once been well-to-do but had fallen on hard times, nor that he was encouraged to write operas and symphonies but refused to do so. I also learned one of the causes of the TB that killed him, an extended stay in Majorca with George Sand where the air was continually damp and dank and his room, by Chopin’s own description, like a tomb. Surely someone could have bought him a train ticket to Nice or somewhere else where the fresh air would have done him good, but Chopin, like so many musical geniuses, was a stubborn guy, and he did what he was going to do no matter what.

Despite a plethora of performance clips, only three of these pianists give their views on Chopin’s music and what it means to them (Kissin, Davidovich, and Wang), excepting Garrick Ohlsson, who acts as host and guide throughout the film. I’ve always kind of liked Ohlsson—never considered him to really be one of the top-notch pianists of his time, as Pollini, Rubinstein, Richter, and Perahia quite clearly are—but very good, a solid, fine performer you’d not be disappointed by if you heard him live. Judging by this 2009 concert of the Chopin concertos, I’d say that if anything he’s gotten even better with time. I’d now put him in the same category as Stephen Kovacevich, another outstanding yet underrated American pianist.

While watching and listening to the performance clips, juxtaposed excellently by director Gerald Caillat, it came to me why I don’t like the playing of Kissin, Argerich, or Horowitz (represented here only by very early silent footage playing one of the Chopin etudes), while I do like such similarly dynamic pianists as Rubinstein, Richter, and Cziffra (not shown here). It’s not so much a matter of attack as it is musical flow. Rubinstein, Richter, Cziffra, even Perahia at times, certainly attack the keyboard with gusto; we tend to forget that even the “prince of pianists,” Dinu Lipatti, played with a very sharp attack at times; but they know how to connect their phrases, to make them flow. (Richter sometimes went overboard, but only on occasion; most of the time, he kept the music flowing.) The disconnectedness of phrasing, regardless of how stunning their technique is, always keeps me from appreciating Kissin and Argerich more than others do. But perhaps those who wonder what I’m talking about will actually hear this as they listen to those pianists in context with others who keep it flowing. Yuja Wang, a name unknown to me, certainly plays with gusto, as does American pianist Anne-Marie McDermott (not represented here), but again, flow is the keyword.

As Ohlsson, Wang, and Kissin point out, the deceptive quality of Chopin’s music is its gorgeous melodies and lyrical flow, which mask technical demands as difficult or more so than those of Liszt. (One item conveniently left out of this biopic was that Chopin chided Liszt constantly, publicly as well as privately, for the overcomplicated quality of his music.) Ohlsson even goes so far as to demonstrate exactly what he means in the fingering of two of the etudes, showing how Chopin insisted that one play a light, feathery melody with the three weakest fingers of the hand because the thumb and forefinger are playing counterpoint. Of the performance clips, the earliest (with sound) is Davidovich’s, which looks as if it is from the late 1940s.

The concert performance is typical of the genre, meaning not terribly interesting to watch but great to listen to. You do get a few fleeting close-ups of Ohlsson’s fingering during the two concertos, and you also get to watch Wit, one of the true unsung masters of conducting, on the podium, but to me, watching a concert you’re not really at is only a one-time thrill, especially when the camera is panning all over the place in order to make it “interesting.” (How would the cameraman know what I consider interesting or, better yet, what you’d consider interesting? I doubt if it’s the same thing as what the cameraman thought was cool to look at.) Wit’s podium gestures are a little broader than Nikisch, Strauss, Toscanini, Szell, Böhm, and Reiner, but not as broad as Mehta, Rattle, or Gatti. Overall, a good buy if you enjoy Chopin.



Robert Benson
ClassicalCDReview.com, December 2010

Gérard Caillat’s film The Art of Chopin is a brief illustrated story of the composer interspersed with snippets of performances by famous pianists. Most of these were recorded early in their careers: Evgeny Kissin, Bella Davidovich, Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman. There is a tantalizing bit of Vladimir Horowitz playing a Chopin etude. One wonders why complete performances weren’t included. Sviatoslav Richter’s unbelievable Chopin C# minor Etude is cut off, but you can see the entire performance on a Medici Arts DVD (REVIEW). Garrick Ohlsson, who won the Chopin Competition in 1970 and is now considered to be among the finest performers of his music, is featured discussing the music and how to play it. The second disk offers live performances of the two concertos recorded August 29, 2009 at the Warsaw Philharmonic played to perfection by Ohlsson with Antoni Wit on the podium and the Warsaw Philharmonic that probably has played this music more than any other orchestra. Unfortunately, video and audio are substandard with poor balances. It is surprising that a recording made so recently would have audio as poor as this. It is unfortunate that producers did not supply a printed list of contents including dates and venues.



Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, November 2010

Pianists explore the character and music of the great Polish Romantic pioneer

“The Art of Chopin”, a two-disc film made by Gérald Caillat, makes a fascinating contribution to this year’s celebrations. Interspersing the facts of Chopin’s life with comments and performances by several celebrated Chopin pianists, it adds colour and fuel to a teasing and enigmatic legend. With Garrick Ohlsson a genial and relaxed host, it stresses the paradox of a classicist who was also a Romantic and revolutionary and, as Piotr Anderszewski puts it, a composer whose volatility was balanced by an innate sense of form and elegance.

As a curtain-raiser we see Ohlsson exclaiming over his triumph in the 1970 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, clearly defining moment, and there are clips of Yevgeny Kissin as a pulverising teenager. Then there is footage of Martha Argerich, more contained and less inclined to eat fire than later in her career, Richter’s manic charge through the Op 10 No 4 Etude, and Pogorelich at the start of his charismatic journey, though with the seeds of exaggeration already sown. Zimerman, this time in the 1975 Competition, has his victory greeted with a storm of premature by his exuberant admirers to the Polish equivalent of “For he’s a jolly good fellow”.

The bonus disc consists of a concert given in 2009 by Garrick Ohlsson and the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit. Sadly the performances lack the youthful ardour inseparable from the concertos. Chopin was never a respectable composer and Ohlsson, while never less than solid and musicianly, plays too obviously for safety. You could never describe his playing as “so full of light and shade that it acquires the charm of high relief” (Edward Sackville-West on the pianist Noel Mewton-Wood). But the first disc is a valuable reminder of Chopin’s character and uniqueness; worth it alone for the clips of several extraordinary performances.



Kirk McElhearn
MusicWeb International, October 2010

Not being very familiar with Chopin’s life, and only slightly familiar with his works, I approached this DVD with a goal of learning more about both. This short documentary (only 53 minutes) opens with a film of Garrick Ohlsson performing at the Warsaw International Chopin Competition in 1970, which he won. Ohlsson discusses this moment that was so important to his career.

It then goes on to discuss Chopin’s life, outlining his early life in Poland, his years in Paris, and the many musicians he came to know there. It recounts how he met and became attached to George Sand. Chopin and Sand went to Majorca in 1838, penniless, sick, and alone, to live in a monastery. In 1839, they returned to France, and for the remaining years of his life, he wrote a great deal of music, according to the narrator, but we don’t find out about the music at all. The film then jumps to 1849, after his break with George Sand, and to Chopin’s death from tuberculosis.

This biographical sketch alternates with discussions with Ohlsson who talks about the music and how it is played. Ohlsson explains how Chopin was a great improviser, and how he spent weeks taking an improvised piece and turning it into a score than sounds extemporaneous, yet that is fixed on paper.

We see films of many well-known pianists performing in the documentary. Ohlsson, both young and contemporary, Evgeny Kissin, both young and more recent, the young and then the older Kristian Zimerman, Ivo Pogorelich, Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter, Yuja Wang, Piotr Anderszewski, the young Murray Perahia, Bella Davidovich, and Arthur Rubinstein. The film also features brief interviews with a number of performers, including Arthur Rubinstein, Bella Davidovich, Evgeny Kissin, Piotr Anderszewski, and Yuja Wang.

Unfortunately, this documentary is far too sketchy to give much understanding of Chopin’s life and works. Much more time is necessary to truly discuss a composer of Chopin’s stature. I doubt this film will be of much interest to those who know a lot about him, with the exception, perhaps, of the archival footage of the many performers shown.

However, the meat of this set is the “bonus” disc, which features Garrick Ohlsson playing Chopin’s two piano concertos. Opening with an orchestral work by Stanislaw Moniuszko, Bajka (The Fairy Tale), the concert continues with Ohlsson playing the two concertos. The performances are lively and balanced, with excellent sound and interesting camera angles. The orchestra is competent, but Ohlsson is clearly in command of these works, and gives wonderful performances.

It’s odd that this set features a lacklustre documentary as the main feature, and a fine concert as a bonus. If you’re a fan of Chopin, you’ll probably be more interested in the concert than the documentary, which is too limited in scope. If you are, as I was, unfamiliar with Chopin’s life, you’ll learn a little but not much more than you’d find in liner notes to a few recordings. In any case, this set is worth getting for the piano concertos, which are fine works indeed.



John Terauds
Toronto Star, September 2010

The Art of Chopin, by Gérald Chaillat, uses an American Chopin master, pianist Garrick Ohlsson, as our guide to the composer’s life and what makes his piano compositions so special, illustrated by video clips of the most famous pianists of the 20th century, plus the amazing Yuja Wang. (A bonus DVD features Ohlsson in beautifully expressive performances of Chopin’s two piano concertos with the Warsaw Philharmonic under conductor Antoni Wit.) A great introduction to the life and music of one of the world’s favourite composers.



Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, August 2010

Art Of Chopin (Ideale Audience DVD Set) is an exceptional documentary about the composer, his life and influence, directed by Gerald Caillat, showing how distinct his work is among the masters through interviews, history and examination of the work that runs an hour and could have been even longer. Still, it is thorough and comes with a 90 minutes bonus concert from 2009 conducted by Garrick Ohlsson with the Warsaw Philharmonic and Antoni Wit. Both programs are in anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 video, though the picture on both is a little weak. The documentary is PCM 2.0 Stereo, while the concert is DTS 5.1 (with slightly lesser Dolby Digital 5.1) and comes with an informative booklet.






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