The glories of Tchaikovsky and St. Petersburg.
Naxos, widely known for its presentation of classical music in an extensive series of reasonably priced CDs, has expanded its repertoire to include DVDs. In cooperation with DVD International, it is releasing a series of DVDs that marries the classics to scenes of the beauty of Europe. In a previous release (DVDI 1000), we were introduced to the glories of Russia through Tchaikovsky’s ballet music. Now we have another Tchaikovsky release (DVDI 1006) which focuses on some of his music for stringed instruments along with the many faces of St. Petersburg.
This Naxos Musical Journey presents two pieces by Tchaikovsky. The first is the Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 35. It is played by Takato Nishizaki on violin, accompanied by the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Kenneth Jean. The second piece is the Serenade for Strings in C major, Opus 48, played by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra conducted by Philippe Entremont.
I should make it clear right up front that I’m no classical music expert. I do enjoy classical music and many pieces are recognizable to me, but I don’t have the expertise to be able to say why one rendition of a particular piece is better done than another. That said, what we have on this disc appear to be well-played presentations of two moderately familiar pieces. The music is not of the rousing type, but more of a relaxing, soothing nature. In that respect, it works very well with the visual material that has been selected to accompany it.
The Violin Concerto is divided into three movements, while the Serenade for Strings has four segments. Each of these seven components is accorded a separate chapter on the DVD. Scenes of St. Petersburg and its surroundings accompany the first one and last three chapters. We see scenes of the many buildings in the city with emphasis on the churches, palaces, and parks. The second chapter takes us to Maidonovo, Tchaikovsky’s country home some 90 kilometers from Moscow. Chapters three and four lead us to southern Russia — Sebastopol in the Crimea, Kiev, and Odessa on the Black Sea. Some real thought has been given to making sure the images reflect the nature of each musical segment. Thus the elegiac sound of the Concerto’s second movement fits the country setting of Maidonovo and the waltz time of the Serenade’s second segment works well with the trip to the dachas outside St. Petersburg. The selection of scenes also makes effective use of different weather conditions, seasons, and times of day.
But it is St. Petersburg that shines on this disc — the wonderful colours of its restored churches, the restfulness of its parks and gardens, and the various pastel shades of its many buildings. We are treated to much of this through extensive long shots which, from personal experience having visited the city several times, thankfully tend to hide the many blemishes that one would see closer up. One memorable segment takes us on a trip through the city from dusk to dawn. Another leads us onto a train that takes us through the damp and fog on an autumn day to the dachas beyond the city. The people are not forgotten either, and we see them in the parks relaxing or on the main streets such as Nevsky Prospekt bustling to work or shopping.
In the fourth chapter comes our link to the movies when we are led through Odessa. The final images are of the famous Odessa or Potemkin Steps — a huge staircase of ten landings and some 100-odd steps — that Eisenstein immortalized in his 1925 film The Battleship Potemkin. Certainly it looked a little more stark and forbidding then than it does in the current, pleasant, tree-lined setting.
The DVD-International/Naxos disc does a fine job of reproducing the various scenes of Russia. The aspect ratio is 1.33:1 and the colour images are crisply presented. They’re blemish-free, and clear and vibrant, both the long shots and close-ups. Colour fidelity appears excellent. The music is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo as well as DTS Surround. I listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 and was thoroughly impressed by the music’s presence and clarity. Even cranked right up, there was no hint of distortion. There is little use of the subwoofer, as one would anticipate with the nature of the two music pieces on the disc.
There are some options and extras on the disc. One can choose to have the DVD automatically repeat once it’s completed playing. Each chapter has some text notes about the locations that are being shown to accompany the music, and there are a few very short historic notes about Tchaikovsky. As already mentioned, there are three audio options. Finally, there are previews for seven discs or series available from DVD International, including the Naxos Musical Journey series.
I might wish for a little more detail in the text notes so that one could identify specific images more precisely, but I’m not sure how this could be achieved most effectively. As it stands now, if you’re halfway through a chapter and wonder what exactly that building or garden is you’re seeing, all you can do is return to the text notes and reread the whole chapter note, hoping that you can guess what the image was. Some sort of continuous subtitling that could be turned on or off would probably be the answer, or even an audio commentary would do the trick.
It would also be useful to include more extensive notes on the composer himself for the casual listener who is not so familiar with music history. Providing some linkage between the composer’s life and the images accompanying the music would enhance the enjoyment of the DVD experience. For example, is there some linkage of importance between Tchaikovsky’s life and work and the city of Odessa, since the latter is prominently represented on this DVD?
This is a very nice blend of classical music and Russian images that should appeal to the classical music enthusiast as well as the casual listener. Both image and audio rate highly on this DVD International disc. Recommended.