Music is the Language of the Heart and the Soul
St Petersburg, Amsterdam, Vienna, Riga, Salzburg: the footage in Robert Neumüller’s portrait film about Mariss Jansons keeps hopping madly from place to place. In part this is a fitting reflection of the great conductor’s international upbringing and career, though some of the hops are prompted more by directorial fidgets which leave the viewer, like Jansons, with little space for quiet reflection. Produced for Austrian television, the film was initially intended to puff Jansons’s 2012 New Year’s Day concert in Vienna (released by Sony Classical on CD, DVD and Blu-ray). But Neumüller constantly ducks and weaves around this promotional hook, using interviews, nostalgic location trips, brief staged reconstructions, newspaper clippings, and vintage film material to fill in the story of Jansons’s past.
Most valuable is the footage of his father, conductor Arvid Jansons, and of his own early days as a Herbert von Karajan protégé. But much else, alas, is a fruitless jostle, with rather too many TV clichés: Mariss talking to camera in his car; Mariss revisiting old homes and haunts (‘I played with my toys over there’); Mariss posed prettily by the Baltic sea, offering the kind of sincere, simple observations reflected in the film’s title. Of Jansons’s humanity and penetrating gifts as a conductor we hear heartfelt testimony from the pianist Lang Lang and others.
But the musical evidence for Janson’s penetrating insight produces frustratingly mixed results in the companion DVD – a TV film of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, performed in 2009 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Previously released on DVD and SACD on the Concertgebouw’s own label, the Mahler film fully displays Jansons’s passionate physical engagement with the music. However, we’re finally left with a performance that trots along neatly and cleanly, without taking risks. Music that stems from the heart and soul should offer more than that.