Chantal Akerman, a Belgian-born film director based in Paris, has released feature films as well as shorts, documentaries, and autobiographical fiction. In this set, Akerman pays a 3-disc homage to cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton, on two DVDs and an audio CD. On the first DVD, Akerman gives a brief voiceover introduction of Wieder-Atherton, and then the cellist launches into a lengthy introduction in which she focuses on her interest in music and development as a performer. Later we enjoy Wieder-Atherton and collaborators performing a variety of chamber works. The camera gives the viewer the perspective of watching the performers through doorways at different distances. A performance of Henri Dutilleux’s Trois Strophes rounds out DVD 1. The staging for this piece is an apartment with the cellist in the foreground, and windows behind her that show actors going about everyday tasks. Apparently Dutilleux came to the shoot and was very pleased, as he should have been; Wieder-Atherton plays this difficult set articulately and passionately. DVD 2 begins with Wieder-Atherton describing her vision for an upcoming concert in Warsaw with the Sinfonia Varsovia, while footage and audio clips of concert preparation run underneath. In the program Songs from Slavic Lands, we enjoy cello/chamber orchestra transcriptions and arrangements of Dohnányi, Mahler, Rachmaninov, Martinů, Prokofiev, and Kodály. The narration on both DVDs is in French, but English subtitles are available. Finally, the included CD is the music score from Akerman’s 1996 flop A Couch in New York. Wieder-Atherton is responsible for most of the tracks, including her scoring of Cole Porter’s Night and Day and some original compositions. There is much to enjoy about this collaboration between two imaginative and visionary women, not the least of which is Wieder-Atherton’s fabulous playing.
Menahem Pressler was a founding member and only pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio, whose disbanding in 2008 led him to embark on a solo career in addition to his teaching responsibilities at Indiana University. He’s proven he can play well with others, and he still does, collaborating with groups like the Muir, Takács, and Emerson String Quartets. In this live performance from March 2011, don’t be fooled by the presence of the score on the piano, by the wrinkled, papery, thick-as-sausages fingers, or by the goofy facial expressions; at 87, Pressler’s hands and mind are still his to control. The Schubert is full of finesse and suspense, and he dances through the Chopin mazurkas. His playing is warm, human, and honest, and this video is a nice complement to his sizable discography.
– Anne Shelley