The Orchestra [DVD}

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: A film by Helmut Failoni and Francesco Merini
LABELS: EuroArts
ALBUM TITLE: The Orchestra
WORKS: Claudio Abbado and the Musicians of the Orchestra Mozart
PERFORMER: Claudio Abbado and the Musicians of the Orchestra Mozart
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 2060738; Blu-ray: 2060734

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Claudio Abbado was a man of famously few words, so any footage of him speaking is precious, as is any of his mesmerisingly beautiful conducting. Hence why this film is so tantalising: we get some brief excerpts of what must have been a detailed interview (printed in the accompanying booklet, and worth the price of the DVD alone), and glimpses of him rehearsing and conducting the Orchestra Mozart, but the bulk of the film follows the Orchestra Mozart musicians on tour.

They’re an engaging bunch, the German-speakers burning with higher purpose, the Italians quixotic; surreal humour bonds a Norwegian bassist and an Irish percussionist. All enthuse eloquently on Abbado’s magical ability to create both a musical family and indelible performances with the gentlest of means. But none of this is news. The chapter headings are particularly misleading, beginning with ‘The conductor’ – two minutes of Abbado looking over the red roofs of Bologna, leafing through his music library and explaining why he learns everything by heart: ‘it liberates me’. Then we have nearly half an hour on ‘The Musicians’, which is then recycled for ‘The Orchestra’, ‘The Instruments’ and ‘Private View’. Most confounding of all is ‘The concert’: four minutes of a slo-mo flute concerto performance to a Mahler-lite soundtrack composed by Uri Caine.

It would have been more edifying to see an actual rehearsal, or the Papageno choir Abbado set up in a Bologna prison. Or, better still, the interview with Helmut Failoni in which he talks so tellingly about green politics, the authors he rates, the advice of Karajan (‘don’t make the mistake I made – directing a piece of music I didn’t know well enough’) his encounters with Carlos Kleiber, and the principle by which he worked: ‘Listen to each other’.

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Helen Wallace