Kinshasa Symphony

COMPOSERS: A film by Claus Wischmann & Martn Baer
LABELS: C Major DVD
ALBUM TITLE: Kinshasa Symphony
WORKS: A film by Claus Wischmann & Martin Baer
PERFORMER: Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste/Armand Diangienda
CATALOGUE NO: Arthaus 101 473 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 16:9 picture format)

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Musicians and singers in the developed world often rehearse and perform under stress, but the stresses don’t usually include frequent power cuts, a long slog selling omelettes in the city market, and building double basses from scratch. Such is the daily round of the extraordinary Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste from Kinshasa, the sprawling and febrile capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Claus Wischmann and Martin Baer’s marvellous film follows these hard-pressed amateurs in the run-up to a gala open-air concert of powerful music including the ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Ravel’s Boléro, the opening chorus of Orff’s Carmina Burana. We also hear them in the ‘Prisoners’ Chorus’ from Verdi’s Nabucco and Handel’s plum, ‘Ombra mai fu’.

But it’s the ‘Ode to Joy’ that drives the film forward as singers and musicians sweat to master Beethoven’s great clamour. Beyond that, we see the people’s lives, their city and their country – a complex social tapestry of poverty, crime, portable TVs, hair extensions, and hope for better times. It’s impossible not to be moved. Impossible not to be touched, too, by the ebullient Joseph (viola player, electrician, hairdresser), the weary patience of flautist Nathalie, or the steady control of their self-taught conductor, Armand Diangienda, grandson of one of the Belgian Congo’s political and religious martyrs. As for the level of music-making, it’s the uplifting spirit not the fine detail that matters.

Conditions of shooting couldn’t have been ideal, but Martin Baer’s camerawork has an eloquent sheen, and the recording by Pascal Capitolin is crisp.

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Geoff Brown