The Italian Character

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COMPOSERS: The story of a great Italian orchestra
LABELS: EuroArts
ALBUM TITLE: The Italian Character
WORKS: The story of a great Italian orchestra
PERFORMER: Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano; dir. Angelo Bozzolini
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 2059388 blu-ray: 2059384

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A trumpeter trumpets in Italy’s Stelvio Pass, some 9,000 feet up. A double-bass player saws away at some Ravel in a swimming pool. Such are the showy conceits that both enliven and burden Angelo Bozzolini’s ambitious portrait of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, a body that has risen to new heights since Antonio Pappano became its music director in 2005. There he is in the blue shirt, waving his hands a lot as he visits his picturesque Italian roots to discourse on the national character, though he never waves as much as Bozzolini’s camera team, endlessly following orchestral personnel in and out of hotels and concert halls during their tour of Germany.

Along the way, guest musicians swim into view, bolstered by snips of archive footage taken from televised concerts. Janine Jansen, bright and enthusiastic, makes a vivid impact during rehearsals for Brahms’s Violin Concerto. Evgeny Kissin, far less natural, concludes praise for Giulini (‘a person of royal simplicity’) with a frightening smile. Pappano aside, Yuri Temirkanov appears the most relaxed and charismatic of the conductors; Valery Gergiev pops in briefly, weary, unshaven, and on the phone. None of them, however, tops the extraordinary archive spectacle of the French maestro Georges Prêtre, stirred into such agony conducting Bolero that he hides his face behind his hands. 

In between, we track selected orchestra members out of hours as they tend bees, keep fit, and variously follow the director’s fancy even if it leads them underwater. Bozzolini’s meandering patchwork includes some interesting comments on the idiosyncratic nature of Italian musicians and the orchestra’s flaws and strengths; but for all the starry cast there’s not enough solid substance for repeated viewings.

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Geoff Brown