We Want The Light Review
This is the fourth in a series of reviews of DVDs showcasing the work of renowned classical music documentarist Christopher Nupen. The others are Jacqueline du Pré In Portrait, Franz Schubert - The Trout / The Greatest Love and the Greatest Sorrow, Andres Segovia In Portrait and Jean Sibelius - The Early Years / Maturity and Silence.Christopher Nupen's most recent film at the time of writing is a departure from the others currently available on DVD. While their focus was largely on individual performers and composers, We Want The Light attempts something much more ambitious - an overview of two centuries of German history in general and its musical history in particular, from the understandably ambivalent perspective of its Jewish population.This was a subject Nupen had encountered on a great many occasions in the past. A significant number of the musicians he'd worked with (for instance Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Evgeny Kissin, Nathan Milstein, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman) were Jewish, as indeed was Nupen's screen protegée Jacqueline du Pré, who converted when she married Barenboim. Although most were too young to have been directly affected by the Nazi regime, few had been untouched by it, and Zukerman was the son of Holocaust survivors. And yet a huge proportion of their creative lives would have been spent performing German music, inescapably the cornerstone of Western musical culture, from Bach to Schoenberg via Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner.And while it might seem an easy enough task to separate an ostensibly abstract art form from the ideology of German nationalism, Nupen's film demonstrates the pitfalls. Near the start, cultural commentator Elyakim Ha'etzni points out that Johann Sebastian Bach's St Matthew and St John Passions not only repeat the ancient 'blood libel' that labels the Jews as primarily responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, but they do so through music of such overwhelming power that it's impossible not to be swept along in their wake. To emphasise this, Nupen's staging of the opening of Bach's Mass in B Minor features an extraordinary image of the crucified Christ emerging from a swirl of blood-red and sulphur-yellow clouds, ascending to the heavens to look down on the enraptured chorus. And as for Richard Wagner... well, we'll come to him in a moment.
When Bach, Haydn and Mozart were active in the 18th century, German musical culture was dominated by the Church - a Christian Church from which Jews were explicitly excluded. Their own musical culture was also religious, but generally restricted to the temples - it was primarily seen as a medium of spiritual consolation. But in the 19th century, when German Jews were gradually emancipated (a slow process, as Germany was then a collection of independent statelets), many sought to play a greater part in German culture. Some, including Felix Mendelssohn's family, even converted to Christianity. Others retained their Jewish faith, but sought to become "more German than the Germans", quickly achieving dominance in science, medicine, the arts and music. Despite growing anti-Semitism, Germany in this period was generally one of the most tolerant parts of Europe, and emancipation was quickly followed by assimilation.The grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, a leading Enlightenment thinker and champion of reason as the most powerful instrument of tolerance, Felix Mendelssohn was born into a family that not only straddled both cultures but were strong advocates of their mutual co-operation (and the choice of the incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream
to accompany this sequence shows that Mendelssohn's cross-cultural interests ranged rather wider than German-Jewish ones). And in his explicitly religious music (Elijah
being the best known), Mendelssohn eschewed the traditional notion of the Trinity in favour of what conductor and music historian Leon Botstein calls "the continuity between a monotheistic, abstract god of justice, humanity, light and truth" - in other words, a very Jewish treatment of Protestant theology. And Nupen also covers Mendelssohn's role in the rediscovery of the St Matthew Passion
a century after its composition. How ironic that it should be a Jewish composer to do this - and yet, how appropriate given Mendelssohn's all-inclusive views.But Mendelssohn didn't consider himself to be particularly Jewish. Born in Germany, raised as a German speaker, as far as he was concerned he was German. Many other German Jews from a secular background felt the same way, throwing themselves wholeheartedly into German culture in the belief that their contributions would be accepted just as wholeheartedly by Germans of Aryan stock. They were wrong - and just how wrong was emphasised by Wagner's notorious 1850 essay 'Judaism and Music'. One of the most notorious anti-Semitic tracts ever written, the fact that it was also the creation of one of German music's indisputable creative geniuses (albeit initially published pseudonymously) gave it a weight that previous racist smear campaigns had lacked, and made it far harder to dismiss. Of course, Wagner wasn't the first prominent German anti-Semite (as Botstein puts it, he merely put a lit match to a room already full of kerosene), but his essay was profoundly dangerous for the way that it explicitly linked burgeoning German nationalism to what he saw as a pernicious, tainting Jewish influence. So 18th-century Enlightenment collided with 19th-century nationalism, triggering a chain reaction that exploded in the first half of the 20th century.
It also made Wagner's music politically problematic, especially with regard to Israeli concert audiences. Nupen shows riveting footage of an attempt at performing the Siegfried Idyll
at the Performing Arts Centre in Rishon LeZion, Israel in October 2000, waiting several seconds before revealing that the obtrusive sound in the background isn't a fault in the recording but the result of deliberate disruption by a man in the audience waving a football rattle - and as the Israel Symphony Orchestra manfully tries to keep playing, security guards try to evict him, causing further chaos.The links between Wagner and Hitler have been endlessly debated (and many of the arguments are explored in the DVD extras), but while we'll never know whether Wagner would have become an enthusiastic Nazi (despite widespread assumptions this is by no means a given), there's no doubt of the regard in which Hitler held the composer. As Holocaust historian Dr. Margaret Brearley says, "he provided a very fertile seedbed into which Hitler could later plant Nazism", and the writer Norman Lebrecht stresses that Wagner's anti-Semitism was groundbreaking for being secular in nature. And the essay concludes with a reference to 'der Untergang' - without specifying what form this 'downfall' or 'annihilation' should take. Forced conversion? Expulsion? Or Hitler's far more genocidal interpretation?
The film divides broadly into thirds: the historical background concerning the Jewish emancipation and its effect on composers like Mendelssohn, the impact of Wagner's essay at the time it was written, and the consequences of German anti-Semitism when it became government policy from 1933-45. This last section opens with a series of street signs sketching in the changes in the legal status of Jews, reinforcing their sense of an epoch coming to an end, the marriage of convenience between them and the Germans exposed as an illusion (Siegfried's funeral march from Wagner's Götterdämmerung
, appropriately enough, accompanies this section).The commentary here comes from Holocaust survivors, the violinist Jacques Stroumsa, the cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, and the pianist Alice Sommer Herz. All were forced to rely on their musical talent in order to survive, and all had to perform German music at a time when the composers' descendants had degenerated into barbarism. But it also helped keep them sane ("if you knew you were to play in the evening, you were happy"), as did the paintings and drawings by other inmates that provide the illustrations for this part of the film. The wider historical perspective that opened the film now becomes anecdotal, turning the political all too personal - and what this part of the film lacks in overview it gains in emotional immediacy, especially when we learn of the fate of Gustav Mahler's niece at the hands of Auschwitz's notorious medical experimentalist Dr Josef Mengele, for whom Lasker-Wallfisch also had to perform.
Mahler's Ninth Symphony opens the film, but its closing work is far more obscure - The Song of Terezin
was written by Franz Waxman (best known as a Hollywood film composer), its text taken from a poem written by 12-year-old Eva Pickova in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and its repeated choral refrain supplying Nupen's film with its title. ("Do not forget us. We want to live. We want the light!"). Although musically it's a come-down from the magnificence of most of what precedes it, it's hard to fault the sentiment, and harder to think of an alternative ending that would have made as much contextual and emotional sense.So far, this is what was shown on BBC4 in January 2004 as the hour-long centrepiece of their Holocaust Memorial Day broadcast - but the DVD has a welcome bonus up its sleeve in that as soon as the documentary proper has finished, it launches into what can best be described as the musical equivalent of an action replay. Essentially, the programme is repeated - but in a version both cut down and expanded, in that all spoken content (soundtrack commentary, onscreen talking heads) has been eliminated, title cards have been added to identify individual works, and the music itself has been remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1. There are also rather more shots of individual musicians - for instance, Jacqueline du Pré can now be seen performing Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei
, whereas she was only present on the soundtrack before.As with his marvellous 1994 Schubert documentary, The Greatest Love and the Greatest Sorrow
, Nupen is using this part of the DVD to present a purely musical case for his thesis about the greatness of German music and the importance and indivisibility of its Jewish element - across the fourteen featured works, Bach rubs shoulders with Schoenberg, Wagner with Mendelssohn, Schubert with Mahler. My only real quibble is that in its eagerness to cover as wide a range as possible, some of the extracts are a little too brief - Bach's Mass in B Minor
is reduced to mere seconds - but as a stimulus to explore this field further it couldn't be much better. And that's just the start of a vast amount of additional material, discussed in detail below.The DVDWe Want The Light
departs from the model established by Christopher Nupen's other DVDs. They generally fit two features onto one disc, while this has one feature and two discs - the additional space filled by several hours of extras, created at the time of production with this DVD release specifically in mind. To fit all this in, the stock Allegro Films promos have been cut down - we only get the two-minute version, not the 35-minute expansion that's on all the other discs.Picture
Presented in anamorphic 16:9 throughout (main feature and extras), the picture is hard to fault. Unlike the older films on the other Opus Arte Nupen DVDs there are no age-related issues (the digital transfer was presumably made at the time of production), and there are virtually no visible blemishes whatsoever, either in terms of the source material or the encoding - a brief instance of moiré
patterning during a rostrum zoom into an 18th-century woodcut can be forgiven. There are also the usual interlacing side-effects of a non-progressive NTSC transfer, though these are less prominent than with Nupen's other films, due to the relative lack of close-ups of performing technique. But it generally looks superb.Sound
The first 60 minutes of the main programme is in PCM stereo, as would have been the case with the original broadcast, and achieves a perfect balance between music, narration and onscreen discussion. The shift to Dolby Digital 5.1 achieves what I presume was the desired effect of bringing the music dramatically centre-stage. As with the picture, there's very little to say about this - fully up to contemporary standards, I couldn't fault it for recording quality or sonic impact.Menus
The menus are as simple and straightforward as ever for Nupen's DVD releases. Optional subtitles are available in German, Spanish, French and English, and they cover all the extras as well as the main feature. If you don't select a subtitle option, it provides an English translation where necessary - though this can be switched off for the more linguistically competent (the film is mostly in English, though there's a fair bit of spoken and written German, and one of the interviewees, Jacques Stroumsa, switches from French to English to German and even throws in a bit of Dante in the original Italian for good measure. The subtitles are impressively thorough, covering onscreen text such as the highlighted excerpts from Wagner's notorious essay, as well as the words to choral works such as Elijah
, the finale of the Meistersinger von Nürnberg
, and the concluding Song of Terezin
Expectations were high for the DVD treatment of We Want The Light
, as it was the first Christopher Nupen film made after his discovery of the format and his bordering-on-evangelical enthusiasm for its potential. And expectations are overwhelmingly fulfilled - in its detailed exploration and elaboration of every theme raised by the main feature (usually from multiple angles and viewpoints), this is the most wholly satisfying DVD package I've encountered since Criterion's Battle of Algiers
triple-discer.That said, a bald summary sounds deceptively unimpressive: a short Allegro Films promo (as mentioned above), an introduction by Christopher Nupen, some more music, plus a number of interviews with contributors to the main film.
The introduction runs 7:20, and is one of Nupen's more substantial efforts, opening with a general discussion on the subject of blending music and documentary, and how he's been taking full advantage of technological advances from noiseless 16mm cameras to non-linear domestic video formats such as DVD. He also discusses his own approach to documentary, which generally shuns facts and figures in favour of a poetic approach to the subject, citing We Want The Light
as the furthest that he has moved in this direction - paradoxically, because it concerns itself with the fate of actual human beings. But he explains that, as the film progressed, it became clearer that it was primarily a philosophical reflection on the importance of music, freedom and captivity, emancipation, acculturation and assimilation. He also offers a personal guide to the DVD's three-part structure: film, music and interviews.And so to the interviews, which I have to confess I approached with some trepidation. It's mildly startling to find out that the total running time of this material comes to nearly three and three-quarter hours, but this isn't exceptional - and if anything this lowers expectations, suggesting that it will be a load of unedited waffle of no great interest except to completist obsessives. Let's face it, we've all seen so-called "special editions" where the distributor has simply used the spare space on the DVD as a dumping ground for anything they can pull off the shelf.In this case, nothing could be further from the truth: each interview is as tightly edited as anything in the main feature, emphasised by the number of dissolve-cuts. The crucial difference is that while they were initially only given a few sentences to get their viewpoint across, here they have the luxury of several minutes (average length 12:26), which turns snappy soundbites into far more considered philosophical reflections - in fact, in many cases they cover subjects other than those they were discussing in the main film. There are also contributions from people who didn't make the final cut, such as Toby Perlman and Evgeny Kissin. What follows are brief précis - the longer interviews in particular are crammed with far more detail than can be comfortably squeezed into this review.Evgeny Kissin
(11:26) plays Brahms' F minor piano sonata, op.5, and discusses the paradox of why the most abstract of all the major art forms is also the most emotionally involving - but he also says, with reference to Wagner's anti-semitism, that for all its undoubted spiritual qualities, there is little evidence that music makes people better human beings, and it can undoubtedly be used for evil purposes. Whether or not we derive something positive from it depends entirely on the individual listener. He concludes with a recital of a Yiddish poem, Mozart
, by Jankev Glatsteyn.Vladimir Ashkenazy
(12:58) bookends his comments with a philosophical reflection on the importance of music as an art form, and his belief that musical gifts are entirely natural. He cites Mendelssohn and Mahler to counter Wagner's charge that Jewish composers only imitate, and believes that Wagner's essay is a microcosm of the mentality underpinning Nazi Germany, by demonstrating that even a highly intelligent and cultured individual can fall prey to the crudest racism. But he also believes that some Israelis are similarly brainwashed in their belief that Wagner's anti-Semitism negates his genius, and disapproves of concerts being disrupted for polemical reasons.Zubin Mehta
(7:25) discusses his campaign to rehabilitate Wagner in Israel, on the grounds of his importance as the grandfather of contemporary music ("We are eating the fruit of the tree without seeing the main stem"). He offered to play Wagner's 'Liebestod' after a concert had formally ended, and though a heckler's intervention spread pandemonium, Mehta and his orchestra played the whole piece - but a repeat performance was forcibly prevented. Although other Nazi-linked composers such as Richard Strauss have become accepted, Wagner remains persona (or musica) non grata in many circles: Israeli orchestras have maintained an unofficial boycott for years.Itzhak Perlman
(5:51) cites Wagner as the only truly problematic example of a situation where a composer's personal and political convictions overspill into our appreciation of his music. More generally, if one plays Brahms beautifully, does that mean one automatically subscribes to every aspect of German musical culture? Perlman believes not: the quality of his performance is primarily based on his own personal response to it. He reminisces about a trip to Poland to make a film about klezmer ("Jewish soul music") and encountering a Twilight Zone
situation whereby the Jewish culture he observed there was largely maintained by gentiles.Pinchas Zukerman
(8:25) talks about the importance of maintaining identity in the shtetl, which was often achieved via music. He believes that German music has achieved its dominance (from Bach to Webern) through its perfect symmetry, citing the architecture of a Bach partita as an example. He examines the Israeli orchestras' Wagner boycott from all sides, acknowledging the impossibility of reconciling his musical instincts with being descended from Holocaust survivors: Wagner absolutely must - and must not - be played. He cannot forget footage of Hitler underscored by Wagner's music, and yet it somehow expresses everything about the human soul.Toby Perlman
(5:08) contributes a rare instance of light relief by opening the second disc with a delightful reminiscence of her inability to recognise the difference between a profoundly evil man that her highly musical father banned from the house called 'Vargner' and her first experience of some of the most sublime music she'd ever heard at a concert - she simply assumed that the name W-A-G-N-E-R was pronounced as written: "wagoner" without the middle syllable.Michael Haas
(4:55) discusses the nineteenth-century Jewish assimilation into German culture and the German reaction to it. This was very rapid because of the Jews' desire to play a full role in German society and culture (literature and science as well as music), from which they had been excluded before emancipation. If their numbers seemed disproportionate, it was because they had so much catching up to do. Blind to the irony, the Nazis used Wagner's theory about empty Jewish imitation as an excuse for a cultural pogrom, while concentration camp guards requested that Jewish-dominated scratch orchestras play German music: the consequence of tyranny.Elyakim Ha'etzni
(8:16) claims that a composer's ideological convictions are usually irrelevant to appreciation of their music (Tchaikovsky was an anti-Semite, Richard Strauss a Nazi collaborator), but Wagner is a special case. It's also impossible to reconcile the paradox of Hitler's vegetarianism and love of children with his other deeds, which raises the question of whether Germans are like everyone else (and everyone is susceptible to fascism) or whether there's something innate in the German psyche that makes them vulnerable to a spellbinding demagogue. A century before the Holocaust, Heinrich Heine wrote about "the German beast" and seemed to foresee these impulses.Norman Lebrecht
(13:47) believes the disproportionate Jewish contribution to German culture is a reflection of the way that Jews have historically tended to thrive in a state of symbiosis with the host culture. The German emancipation in the Napoleonic era allowed Jews to escape the ghetto and move into the professions, which led directly to the rise of the middle class. They also brought an outsider's perspective that's crucial to great art. Music was an important part of temple worship, and was especially associated with mourning and spirituality. Wagner's anti-Semitism began as a reaction to prominent rivals, the bombastic Meyerbeer and the refined Mendelssohn, but one can't detach his work from the evolutionary process of German nationalism. Unlike other revolutionary societies, they had no-one to overthrow, so their nationalism pushed against a different 'enemy' - and Wagner's contribution to German culture and thought was crucial to the development of Hitler's philosophy.Margaret Brearley
(14:38) explores philosophical German anti-Semitism prior to Wagner. Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1793), Jakob Fries (1816) and Karl Gutzkow (1830s) all argued for the annihilation of the Jews, by murder or forced conversion. The latter was a strong influence on Wagner, who sought to create an alternative religion by coalescing music and poetry in a quasi-sexual union, and identified Jews as the locus of evil (notably via the mixed-race, i.e. assimilated, Hagen in the Ring
). Wagner's last work, Parsifal
, is also crucial, being an expression of pure paganism (or Aryanism) in Christian disguise. Leading Nazis (notably Goebbels) combined meetings with trips to Bayreuth, "drinking from the fountain of Wagner's thought". Philosopher Peter Haas argued that Nazi Germany created an alternative morality by transplanting previous notions of "evil" onto the Jew - which is how love of high culture coexisted with virulent racial hatred.Paul Lawrence Rose
(12:38) believes that while it's possible to filter out anti-Semitic messages in Wagner's work and enjoy it as pure music, audiences would be depriving themselves of a guilty thrill because of knowledge of what his ideas led to. He discusses Wagner's triangular friendship with Meyerbeer and Heine in 1830s Paris, which broke up because the puritanical Wagner deplored what he saw as their flippancy, interpreting their apparent detachment from their art as being essentially Jewish, corrosively alienated from a culture's organic life. His notorious essay was much a repudiation of former friends as an anti-Semitic tract - indeed, he explicitly sees gratitude as a Jewish vice that makes people overly dependent. Wagner is trying to break free from civilised restraint, but his underlying anger and hatred constantly works against the otherwise undeniable beauty of his work. The first act of Siegfried
, in particular, is saturated with latent anti-Semitism.Daniel Barenboim
(13:10) believes that 'Jewishness' is a combination of religion, people and nationhood, and therefore it's extremely hard to define what a secular Jew is. He divides secular Jews into three types: those who want to preserve Jewishness at all costs, those who believe in assimilation (Heine, Mendelssohn) and those who felt that Jewishness is a life philosophy that can be applied to other things (Spinoza). Barenboim excuses Wagner's anti-Semitism on the grounds that it was expected behaviour for a 19th century German nationalist, and it's no worse than Chopin's or Mussorgsky's, aside from its Teutonic thoroughness and discipline. One can have an intelligent understanding of music while knowing nothing of human relationships or politics. Above all, Jews need to think positively about themselves: a Jew is not a Jew only because he is pointed out by a non-Jew as an object of hatred or envy.Yirmiyahu Yovel
(9:35) points out that Wagner's essay lacks a coherent argument: it's just a long stream of abuse. As such, it's legitimising the lowest kind of expression of bad feeling. Ironically, Wagner's complaints about the Jews reflect his own obsessions - the need for luxury, recognition and so on. Wagner also shares the Jewish people's rootlessness: his German nationalism was a fabrication, including its so-called 'historical tissue'. Hitler took Wagner's ideas further, believing himself to be the secular redeemer that Wagner depicted in Parsifal: Hitler was attracted by the idea of using art as a political, indeed revolutionary, instrument. But people read Wagner's closing paragraph about destruction with too much hindsight: what he said was bad enough, and shouldn't be exaggerated.Uri Toeplitz
(11:31) talks about how Nazism had affected his life, starting with his expulsion from a German academy for being Jewish. As a result, he fell back on his flute-playing skills, and worked in numerous Jewish orchestras, ending up in Bronislaw Huberman's pioneering Palestine Orchestra, later the Israel Philharmonic. There was never a conscious decision to shun Wagner - his relatively sparse orchestral output was chiefly responsible for his rarity on concert platforms - but problems arose when a performance of the prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
was mooted, because of the inescapable association between Nuremberg and Nazism. And when the concert was accidentally scheduled close to the anniversary of the Kristallnacht anti-Jewish pogrom, it had to be cancelled. Toeplitz doesn't like Wagner much, but more on musical grounds than political/philosophical ones - he believes that his music has a far greater impact on the young and naive. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch
(6:42) was eight in 1933, but was aware even then that something terrible had happened. Her father tried to emigrate, but where would they go? She ended up in Auschwitz and Belsen, surviving thanks to her cello playing - she had the only bass instrument in the Auschwitz women's orchestra. As for Wagner, she dislikes him, but on purely musical grounds: his anti-Semitism is irrelevant when it comes to music. Above all, she is against hatred: she saw enough of its destructive effects, and notes that it's the people who haven't experienced it directly who are generally more radicalised.The last two interviews are substantially longer, and involve heavily autobiographical accounts of Holocaust survivors' lives. Jacques Stroumsa
(28:11) begins by exploring his origins: his ancestors travelled from Spain to Turkey to Salonika in Greece. By 1943, life in what had become an overcrowded ghetto had become intolerable, so he volunteered to go to what turned out to be Auschwitz - but survived thanks to his musical and engineering skills, as well as a gift for languages. He vividly describes being reduced to a mere number (still tattooed on his forearm), but also his immense fortune at being taken under the wing of what turned out to be a mini-Schindler, whose protective attitude towards his charges at the Union-Werke factory almost certainly saved many lives. And in two years' incarceration, Stroumsa never heard a note of Wagner.
The 98-year-old Alice Sommer Herz
(30:50) gives a similar account of her life, long enough for her to have a good memory of World War I, so she was already used to the idea of long-term family friends disappearing before adulthood. Her mother strongly encouraged her musical gifts, and she even attended masterclasses by one of Liszt's pupils, simultaneously getting a strongly German cultural education in other areas. Already forty when she was deported to Theresienstadt, she had to cope with a six-year-old son and uncertainty about the fate of her husband, though his advice to her not to volunteer to accompany him saved her life, as he died at Auschwitz. After much detail about camp routines, plus a heart-stopping near-death experience when she was convinced she was going to be shot, she concludes with a lengthy reflection about her outlook on life - which, despite her experiences, remains sunnily optimistic, despite her continuing bafflement that three-quarters of Germans (representatives of a culture she adores) followed Hitler. As she puts it "without the bad, there cannot be good", and has accordingly devoted her life to finding beauty in everything - and ends this section of the DVD on a note of genuine radiance.But this still isn't the end of the DVD. The final image of Alice Sommer Herz's face dissolves to Evgeny Kissin
(12:33) at the piano, returning to bring things full circle. He performs the same Brahms sonata movement, but this time complete and uninterrupted.Conclusion
In a nutshell, a heavyweight subject gets a heavyweight treatment, in terms of both the original film and its DVD repackaging. The presentation of the main feature is well-nigh flawless (the music-only surround-sound replay being a particularly welcome touch), and the breadth and depth of the extras is astounding.More importantly, the DVDs provide a genuinely practical answer to the problem bedevilling anyone who seeks to squeeze a quart-sized subject into a pint-pot medium - by providing copious footnotes that can be accessed in a non-linear fashion, anyone who wants to explore the various elements in more detail is free to do so. (The only minor drawback, which this review has tried to compensate for in part, is that the menus and packaging only identify the speakers, not the subject).These DVDs has already won four prizes, including the Cannes Documentary DVD of the Year Award for 2006 and the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik (German Record Critics' prize, previously awarded to Nupen's earlier Jacqueline du Pré In Portrait
). Sadly, this critical prestige hasn't been matched by its sales figures, partly because of the far more specialised subject, but mostly because classical music DVD retailers simply don't know how to categorise it. Neither performer nor composer-based, and combining elements of documentary and philosophical essay with cultural and historical commentary, it doesn't have an obvious pigeonhole except in terms of its auteur
- and aside from Ken Russell, most of whose music documentaries aren't available on DVD, Nupen is pretty sui generis
when it comes to this particular field.But this review comes complete with numerous online retail links in the left-hand sidebar - and I urge anyone who's even vaguely interested in this subject to take the plunge. Nupen has raised the quality bar sky-high with this release, and needs every encouragement to keep it up there - not least because he still has plenty more of his back catalogue to remaster.