Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Suites: Nos. 1–6
Mischa Maisky (vc)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000875009 (2 DVDs: 162:00)
Deutsche Grammophon is advertising this double DVD as a “first international DVD release,” and this might be a source of confusion to some listeners. The present DVDs were recorded more than 20 years ago, in Villa Caldogno, a beautiful mansion designed by Andrea Palladio. Actually, such information matters little. The exuberance of the palace is never truly explored visually, so we might as well be seeing a concert
with an elaborate backdrop behind the soloist. As to the fact that the recording is two decades old, this is only visually noticeable. To my ears, the playing sounds vigorous and fresh, and does not seem dated at all.
I read in an interview in which Maisky stated that casually running into his old recording of these works in a record store and being upset by what he heard was the impulse for Maisky to make a new version of the suites, released a few years ago. Quoting the artist: “I thought it was someone making fun of me—it sounded like a parody. When I saw it was my (1985) recording, I was shocked. I had not heard it for a number of years.” Well, I am happy that his dissatisfaction served as trigger for another musical adventure, but I beg to differ. These recordings are very good, indeed, and should make anyone proud, even an artist with such high standards as the Latvian virtuoso.
At first, I was disturbed by the idea of seeing a concert in DVD. To my old-fashioned mind, DVDs are an excellent medium for operas, but for recitals they always seemed a poor substitute for a live experience. I would rather listen to CDs. But one look at the myriad classical music catalogs that display an incredible array of recitals is enough to prove that there is an avid public that disagrees with me.
In the case of these specific DVDs, the image is very straightforward, with very little camera liberty. One does not get a tour of the villa, as one might expect, and the camera is focused on the artist at all times. Maisky’s stage presence is very fine: he is expressive without exaggeration, elegant without any dramatic gestures. The sober attitude is not frozen or mechanical, but rather speaks of concentrated passion. The tone is gorgeous, round, flexible, full of nuances. Phrases flow easily, and yet there is nothing superficial about them. Intonation is not even an issue. There is maturity here, intelligence, and power. Curiously enough, when Mischa Maisky recorded these works he was considered “romantic” in his approach. But things have changed. Nowadays, with the exception of the rather pervasive vibrato, he is as much inside the new trends in Baroque performance as anyone else.
I am still not convinced that the image adds to the musical results of the performance. The reasons are odd, and totally idiosyncratic. While watching a good recital usually will engage my interest even in a less gorgeous setting than the Villa Caldogno, the filming of the very same recital tends to leave me impatient. Besides, if a CD of the complete suites of Bach is usually a cake that one eats slice by slice, and rarely all at once, a DVD is less likely to be watched by stretches. It is a question of habit, and perhaps my readers will be more used to the correct savoring of filmed music. Also, and this is even more subjective, while the sound take is fixed (of course!), the image moves around, albeit slightly. Sometimes the camera approaches the cello, and we see the fingers of the cellist in close-up, or the expression in his face. Having a literal mind, I naively expect the sound to be heard from the same angle, but this evidently doesn’t happen. So I miss the “close-up” sounds that are not there: the hiss of breathing, the tap of fingers on the sound-board, the grating of bow scratching string. The contradiction between moving image and static sound is what bothers me, and makes me favor the simpler CD. On the other hand, I am quite aware that, to many people, the image will be a plus, and not only to cellists. And even to people like me, who are only marginally interested in the historical aspect of a DVD release, it is always heartwarming to see a great musician at work, and Mischa Maisky is certainly up there, among the best.
FANFARE: Laura Rónai
Works on This Recording
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