This video shows Simon Carrington, a well-known choral conductor and clinician and co-founder of the Kings Singers, guiding four student conductors through choruses from Handel’s Messiah. Each student prepared a different chorus and led the professional chamber choir Musica Beata through a complete run of the movement. In the sessions, Carrington generally emphasizes lightness and balance, he is positive, and he asks the students to explain their ideas or what they heard and what they might to do change. The battles that Carrington picks are a little obscure and difficult to change in a 25-minute session—“bringing people in,” for instance, or encouraging the students to “do it differently.” With each conductor he appropriately emphasizes text—how it informed and affected Handel’s writing, how the singers interact with it technically and musically, and how it plays into the audience’s experience. The disc concludes with a complete run-through of the four students composing their assigned movements.
The disc kicks off with a short interview with Carrington in which he reflects on the masterclass and the changes that he was trying to elicit from the conductors. He also gives general advice on how to prepare for a choral rehearsal. The austerity of the main menu is a little jarring, with white, sans serif text on a black background asking us to either “play all” or “select chorus,” but the video itself is nicely shot. The camera angles are quite useful—a side shot that shows the profile of the conductor’s upper body (with just a few too-close-ups that lose focus on the student’s posture and gestures), and an overhead shot from the back. The audio is good enough to hear changes in the choir as they respond to changes in the student conductors, and you can hear every single word spoken by Carrington and the conductors. This should be a provocative disc for young conductors.
Adapted from a one-woman show of the same name, Remembering Frédéric is a one-hour documentary written, produced, and directed by Pamela Howland, an active pianist and adjunct assistant professor at Wake Forest University. Howland includes interviews with a wide range of specialists, from the Provost of Frédéric Chopin University to professors in both English and radiology to the owner of Botique B&B in Warsaw. Throughout the film, there are several special interviews with actress Rosemary Harris, who won the Emmy for her portrayal of George Sand in the 1970s Masterpiece Theatre series Notorious Woman. A special emphasis is placed on Chopin’s relationships—with Sand, the artist Eugène Delacroix, his father, and others—and how his illness affected those relationships. Ms. Howland also serves as narrator and as the performer of any of Chopin’s works we hear in the film. As they come up, she inserts several “teaching moments” in which she directly addresses the audience to cover the differences between his waltzes, mazurkas, etudes, and nocturnes. Howland is elegant in appearance, in her playing, and as a voice-over. The documentary is fast-paced as documentaries go, with succinct interviews, short musical clips, and lovely, often-rotating images of portraits, and of buildings and monuments in France and Poland. The piano music played in the background is almost constant and at times a little distracting from the spoken audio. While a broad range of audiences would enjoy this film, academically it is probably most appropriate for high school or early undergraduate students, especially those studying piano. This is a very personal film, an obvious labor of love, and a genuine tribute to “the Genius of Chopin.”
This short and affordable disc features Russian baritone Dimitri Hvorostovsky, one of four singers who received an Opera News Award just a couple weeks ago. In this 2008 performance he is joined by Verdi specialist Sondra Radvanovsky—a special occasion as part of Moscow’s “Hvorostovksy and Friends” concert series—for a scene each from Un Ballo in Maschera and Il Trovatore. The two are regular collaborators, both in fully-staged productions and “best-of” aria recitals such as this one, and their chemistry did not disappoint in this performance.
Some of the audio we hear on this disc is actually taken from Delos’s 2008 CD release Verdi Opera Scenes, but to the credit of California film editor Steve Scoville, it’s difficult to tell which arias those might be. And perhaps these are Russian concert traditions, but I was surprised when the performers were showered with lovely flowers after every single piece, and when each piece was announced over a loudspeaker prior to its performance. Overall, this is a well-played, beautifully-sung recital.
– Anne Shelley