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A Musical Journey - Northern Italy & Sicily

Musical Journey: Northern Italy & Sicily / Various
Release Date: 12/15/2009 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 2110251  
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

NORTHERN ITALY AND SICILY

The Places

The tour starts in Northern Italy, in the city of Mantua, once the domain of the Gonzaga family. We visit Cremona, the centre of violin-making, and Milan, where Mozart stayed on more than one occasion during his Italian journeys. Sicily has a remarkably varied history, held by Phoenicians and Carthaginians before becoming part of Roman territory, later to be occupied by Ostrogoths, recaptured by the Byzantines, ruled by Saracens, and held by Normans, Germans, French and Spanish. Only in the mid-nineteenth century was Sicily drawn into the unified country of Italy.

The Music

The music chosen for this tour is by Mozart and includes his final Symphony
Read more No. 41, known as the "Jupiter", written in Vienna in August 1788, and the earlier Symphony No. 25, completed in Mozart's native city of Salzburg in early October 1773. Mozart had made three extended Italian tours between 1771 and 1773, and his father Leopold had hoped that his family might be able to settle there, if a position could be found for his son. In this, however, they were unsuccessful, and the third Italian tour was Mozart's last.

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: Dolby Digital / DTS Surround
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Running time: 59 mins
No. of DVDs: 1

R E V I E W:

A great production.

What an inspired choice to use these two fine Mozart Symphonies as the musical part of this excellent audio-visual presentation! I guess it would have been easy to have used some impressionistic score with shimmering strings and flute arabesques for Taormina and a Rossini overture for the scenes in Milan. Perhaps a fiddle concerto would have been apposite for Cremona? However, the Mozart music manages to balance the dignity, the grandeur, the subtlety and the classical proportions of most of the scenes chosen for this tour. Additionally, as these two works are so well known: there is no need to have a guilt-trip in only half-listening to the music - the other half of the brain being captivated by the fine images.

For the record, the Jupiter Symphony was composed in Vienna in August 1788 whilst the earlier Symphony No.25 first saw the light of day in Salzburg in October 1773. The two works are well played on these old-ish (1988) recordings.

The DVD is divided into eight chapters - four for each Symphony. The first group present Mantua, Lago di Orta, Cremona and Milan which are shown with Jupiter as a backdrop and the next four are images of Sicily using Symphony No.25. It is not necessary to give a detailed account of the itinerary, however it is useful to mention a few outstanding moments from what is virtually a continuous highlight!

The town of Cremona, which lies between Milan and Mantua, is famous in the history of violin making. Many famous names had their workshops here including the best known of all, Antonio Stradivari. Fortunately, the craft has not died out: there are still a number of makers ‘plying their trade’.

I enjoyed the scenes of Agrigento in Sicily. This was a sixth century BC Greek settlement where there are the remains of temples dedicated to Hercules, Juno, Olympian Jupiter, Castor and Pollux, and, appropriately for Etna’s island, Vulcan.

And lastly, I enjoyed the wonderful shots of the amphitheatre at Taormina with its tremendous view ove the Ionian Sea on Sicily’s east coast. Clearly visible from this vantage point are both the Italian mainland and snow-capped Mount Etna.

All in all, this is a great production: just the sort of thing to put into the DVD player on a freezing cold March day. Lots of interesting places, presented in an artistic manner to the accompaniment of some of the finest music the world has known. As I noted in the companion DVD, Roman Journey, each locality, scene, building or piece of artwork is viewed slowly. Often it is faceted: seen from various angles. It allows the viewer to get to know the topic in some detail. The notes by Keith Anderson on the ‘sights and the sounds’ are also extremely helpful.

My only complaint is that some of the pictures of Sicily are a little cerebral. The Etna footage is impressive - for a Volcanologist - the Taormina shots ideal for the archaeologist or classicist. But how about a few shots of people enjoying themselves - having a glass of Nero d’Avola or a plate of risotto? I went to Taormina in 2005 and enjoyed the sights and the sounds and the food and the drink. It is all part and parcel of the Italian experience. It ought to be reflected.

One last thought. A Mancunian composer and his family lived in Taormina for a few months in 1927. The story goes that John and his wife, Maud, fell out. Hardly unusual, I suppose. However how they made up was spectacular. The children were sat in the Greek amphitheatre and mum and dad approached each other from stage left and stage right and embraced. No doubt to the ringing applause of John Patrick and Marybride.

-- John France, MusicWeb International
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