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John France
MusicWeb International, March 2010

I have often thought that the idea of a fusion of music and images is a great way of being entertained. Add to that the beauty of the Eternal City and the sheer romantic hedonism of the music and you have a recipe for a very enjoyable hour. More about the choice of music later, though. The previous generation of Naxos ‘journey’ DVDs left much to be desired: the present release bears no comparison whatsoever. It is superb.

It is not necessary to give a detailed exposition of the progress of the DVD, except in very broad-brush terms. There are three sections or chapters corresponding to the three works. Chapter One, the First Concerto, looks at some of the more ancient monuments of Rome, including the Pantheon, the Forum, the Colosseum and latterly, as the GI’s used to call it ‘The Typewriter’, or the Vittorio Emanuele II monument. The last named was a bit later, having been built in the first half of the 20th Century. Yet it is a monument, that in spite of the controversy, the Romans would have been proud of.

The second chapter looks at more ‘recent’ additions to the cityscape. This concentrates of the Piazza di Spagna, the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Navona and the Vatican. The music used for this is the Second Concerto.

The last chapter is the darkest and most sinister on the DVD. The Dance of Death (Totentanz) is an ideal piece to use with images of the Colosseum with its history of death and violence as well as entertainment. A slightly more relaxed video of the Appian Way adds to the musical contrast of this piece. Alas, I understand that this old road is the playground of a variety of muggers and vandals.

The video ends with a recapitulation of the under-croft of the Colosseum.

The quality of the video is outstanding. Each site or place of interest is viewed slowly and enables the viewer to relax into the sequences of images. There is a very good commentary by Keith Anderson provided as an insert to this DVD. This notes the sites visited as well as giving brief but informative programme notes for the music.

I suppose my only question is as to why Naxos chose Liszt’s Piano Concertos and not the music of a ‘local’ composers such as Ottorino Respighi, Nino Rota or perhaps Alfredo Casella. Even without choosing the obvious Fountains or Pines of Rome, it would have been possible select suitable music to act as a background to the stunning photography. Liszt’s Concertos were both associated with Weimar. However, it is well known the composer spent much time in The Eternal City and certainly loved its sights and sounds. And what is more pertinent the music does act a fine soundtrack to the cornucopia of images that are presented to the viewer/listener.

Taken in the round this is a stunning production that fuses music and image. In this case the image tends to win and the music is lost a little in the development of the tour of Rome. Yet as a picture postcard it is superb: for anyone who has spent time in the city it is an essential souvenir.

John France
Books & other thoughts, February 2010

MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - ROME: Piazzas, Fountains and the Remains of Empire (NTSC) 2.110239
GINASTERA, A.: Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals / Variaciones concertantes (London Symphony, Israel Chamber Orchestra, Ben-Dor) 8.572249

…this present CD includes the Piano Trio No.1 from 1920 and its stable mate, Trio No.2 composed some thirty-one years later. The great Clarinet Quintet from 1951 (revised 1953) is also included along with the earlier Clarinet Trio. Lastly, this excellent release is completed with a short work for violin, cello and piano—Cornish Boat Song.

It is not often that I review DVDs but this month I have a Naxos Musical Journey Disc—with superb townscapes of the Eternal City. The music used to accompany this visual tour of Rome are the two Piano Concertos and Totentanz from the pen of Franz Liszt. It is really a musical picture post card and certainly is a must for anyone who knows and loves this great Italian city.

Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983) is an Argentine composer whose name is not that well known in the United Kingdom. However Naxos has been producing quite a few CDs of his music over the years. The present CD includes the colourful Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals in both the original version for String Quintet & String Orchestra Op.46 (1976) and the revised edition for full orchestra Op.48 (1977). Both are stunning works. Coupled with this is the Variaciones concertantes, Op. 23 (1953). These are pieces that are a fusion of modern twentieth century music with Argentine folk elements.

My final review copy is a CD of piano music played by Ana Vega-Toscano. This is a part of Columna Musica’s series that has been devised around the works of Don Quixote. This interesting CD includes works by Eduardo Martinez Torner (1888–1955), Ernesto Halffter(1905–1989), Roberto Gerhard (1896–1957) and Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957). It is a treat for all enthusiasts of piano music and of Cervantes great novel…

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