, July 2007
You will succumb with far less difficulty, may I suggest, to the passionate beauty of Christopher Nupen’s Sibelius study. I did when it circulated on laserdisc; now it returns all that deeper, richer and more powerful. There is no metaphorical nonsense here, except what the music itself wants us to know. The biographical details are detailed and lavish. Musical performance matters are in the hands of the excellent Vladimir Ashkenazy, and there are two remarkable visual effects. One comes at the end of every work, when the camera captures the orchestra from behind as the string players hold their bows skyward and it’s like a Sibelius ocean. The other is the remarkable plastic face of Ashkenazy himself, so eloquent as a conductor that you wonder why he wasted all those years in his admittedly excellent career as a pianist.
Every detail of the entire range of Sibelius’ symphonic career is carefully and honestly explained in Nupen’s painstaking prose; he has had some first-rate researchers. I’m only sorry that he has stopped short of the tone-poems, which as you know are a Salonen specialty. As it is I urge you to acquire this exceptional DVD – 151 minutes on one disc! – as preparation for our Philharmonic’s Sibelius splurge this fall (along with the chapter in the Alex Ross book I mentioned last week, which will also be out by then.)
Now, about those 151 minutes… The last 30 of these are a kind of Christopher Nupen teaser, bits and pieces from some of his other documentaries of fond memories. There is one 30-second bit that you will play over and over: Jacqueline Du Pré alone in a railway car, hugging her cello and plucking out something-or-other in sheer ecstasy. There’s more besides, but those few seconds are worth everything.