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on June 12, 2008
Despite the fact that this BBC documentary/drama is extremely watchable, it is also extremely flawed. Great life, great music - how can one go wrong? Well, our guide through Russia and Tchaikovsky's life - conductor Charles Hazelwood - takes one stroll too many, pops up a bit too often with many banal commentaries and if I had to watch him conduct one more time, I probably would have had to put the DVD on pause and take a break. (Come to think of it, in the recreations of Tchaikovsky's life, why are there no scenes of Ed Stoppard as the famous composer conducting? Maybe Hazelwood did not want to share his beloved baton? As to Ed Stoppard, his performance - unlike Tchaikovsky's music - is decidedly one-note.) Anyway, too much Hazelwood, no mention of T's extended family, no info as to his wife's eventual sad fate, no account of T's early suicide attempt (hauntingly captured in Ken Russell's biopic),not a wisper of "The Nutcracker" and no exploration of the mystery of how T actually died. The filmed flashback takes his brother's account as gospel, even though his recollections are historically suspect (as pointed out in this disc's terrific extra). As to the filmed flashbacks, they are extremely reminiscent of scenes from Ken Russell's "The Music Lovers" - as another reviewer here perfectly pointed out. The movie with Richard Chamberlain (despite some historical inaccuracies and compressions) is actually a much better take on Tchaikovsky than is this BBC production. The Russell film had it all: great performances, more insight into the creative process, full exploration of T's tortured marriage and unique relationship with his widowed patron, and a great shot of a living, exhilerated, conducing T in springtime turning in one cut into a frozen statue atop a pedestal in the snow, a cut which speaks volumes about the nature of fame. It is a cut as awesome in its way as the jump from Moonwatcher's skyward flung bone to a spaceship in moon orbit in "2001." Plus...the movie didn't have Hazelwood strolling in and out and hamming it up for the cameras whilst conducting. Now, what I much preferred on the disc in question was the extra! The 1993 Omnibus "Who Killed Tchaikovsky" was much more interesting and illuminating than the more current BBC production, the main feast on this disc. The ending shot at Tchaikovsky's grave in the "extra" is, in itself, worth the price of the DVD. It is absolutely moving and utterly Tchaikovsky-esque and left me shaken. I won't reveal what this closing shot of the extra is, simply know that it, like the scene referred to earlier in the Russell film, silently (wordlessly) speaks volumes through visuals and music. So, in summation, the extra on the disc is better than the main feature and "The Music Lovers" is likewise much better. One final note: in the Hazelwood production, none of the interviewed Russian music students and dancers and singers has anything very interesting or original to say about Tchaikovsky - although in the one scene shot in a bar, you can see that the musicians do love their beer! I got thirsty myself watching that scene! But not thirsty for a cholera-tainted glass of water.
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on June 5, 2008
This is a two-hour BBC production from 2007 which originally aired in two parts. The DVD presents both parts separately as originally broadcast in the UK.

Mixing a documentary approach, dramatic recreations featuring actors, and conductor Charles Hazlewood conducting a young Russian orchestra performing Tchaikovsky in modern-day, this BBC production flows seamlessly and will immerse any viewer looking for historical coverage of Tchaikovsky, as well as other viewers simply looking for a dramatic tale of an historical legend. All the important aspects of Tchaikovsky's life and music are touched on, and the music is always given its time to breathe and enthrall. The only small quibble is that the sequences showing host-narrator Hazlewood conducting the modern orchestra are somewhat laughable. His conducting just comes off as a bit ridiculous looking (and I'm trying to be nice here) - otherwise, Hazlewood's host-narration segments are exemplary.

I'm a huge fan of Ken Russell's 1970 film THE MUSIC LOVERS starring Richard Chamberlain and Glenda Jackson (an incredible film that has many sequences recreated in this BBC production) and only hope that someday MGM will finally release a widescreen DVD edition of that film (although I've only been waiting 10 years already so I'm not holding my breath). If you haven't seen the film, seek out a dub off the old 2.35:1 widescreen laserdisc version as the old VHS is horribly pan-and-scanned and ruins all the compositions. The film may not get every historical detail correct and has been criticized for that, but it's still an amazing visual and musical tour-de-force that delivers the complete essence of Tchaikovsky and his music. It's an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking.

In the meantime, this BBC production brings back some of that magic and Tchaikovsky's music continues to be timeless. This BBC production is definitely superb. The DVD also includes a bonus 50-minute BBC production from 1993 called "Who Killed Tchaikovsky?" which tries to answer just that. It's interesting, and does include clips from Ken Russell's "THE MUSIC LOVERS" (but in pan-and-scan!), but overall this earlier BBC expose is kind of cheap and unpolished, especially compared to the main and primary BBC production on the DVD. So this bonus is simply an extra, so no complaining there.
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on October 31, 2009
A fantastic journey through the best of the best of this composer, ending with his death just weeks after his last composition which became his requiem. At the height of his brilliance he was a world wide known "rock star" of his time, but a star without any of the freedoms we know today. His nanny said he was fragile as glass; he also appears as brittle as glass, and each thing that he wrote, each deed he did for society's sake, each love he lost -- all put a crack in that brittle glass of this great man. I dare say even those unschooled in symphony, will still recognize the music in this movie. An all time great biography, coupled with a musical journey. I loved it.
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on January 5, 2010
This film, produced by the BBC, combines musical performances of several select works by Tchaikovsky along with a commentary by a conductor which are further enhanced with dramatizations of key scenes from the life of the great composer. This is a very effective format to explore the life and works of Tchaikovsky. The director, Matthew Whiteman, explores a hypothesis that the tensions and double life that Tchaikovsky lead can be detected in his music. This is the only weakness in the film in that the works of Tchaikovsky appear to be far from transparent interpretations of the struggles he encountered as a closeted gay man attempting to hide his homosexuality as his international fame increased.
Performances of the piano concerto, the violin concerto, the 4th, 5th, and 6th Symphonies, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and the Nutcracker are integrated into the life sequences. The case is made that whereas opera has many great composers, Tchaikovsky is the great composer for ballet. Tchaikovsky's homosexuality is depicted fairly and realistically as a part of this great man that he found difficult to integrate into his ever increasing fame. However, to interpret his music in terms of his closeted lifestyle seemed to me to be over analytical and not accurate.
Ed Stoppard plays an understated Tchaikovsky, which is excellent since so much of the drama is in the music. I was impressed with the very sad childhood of the composer, sent to a boy's school for future civil servants (what a terrible thought). I was also impressed with the relationships between the composer and his younger brother, who was also gay, and who was a life long confidant of the composer. The mystery as to whether the composer accidentally drank contaminated water or whether he knowingly drank the water as a suicide attempt seemed to be an effort to bring a bit of mystery into the film. But ask yourself, do you really think anyone would commit suicide by contracting cholera?
This is a very good production. It is intelligent and the musical passages are superb.
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on March 22, 2012
Excellent acting in this film about the Russian composer. I never knew much about his life but this film brings insights into his personal life that most people may not know. The music is as usual beautiful. All in all,the way you learn about him is fantastic. The film grows on you once you view it for the first time.
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on June 29, 2015
The true facts surrounding the death of Tchaikovsky at just the age of fifty-three remain clouded and hidden. The Russian Government of today is similar to the British Government and Edwardian attitudes of many years ago, as the English novelist E. M. Forster said in his posthumous publication of his novel Maurice, "The English have always been disinclined to accept" the realities of "human nature". Doubtless the personal papers, letters, diaries and other records held in the voluminous Tchaikovsky House-Museum collection at his country estate at Klin are important. This museum some fifty miles north west of Moscow would reveal important clues. But, unlimited access to these records remains unattainable. Tchaikovsky is considered a Russian treasure and for the present at least, the Government, to the extent that it can, will not allow any questioning of the Tchaikovsky reputation that it seeks to protect. This film dramatizes some of the accepted theories of the life of the composer and shows how various events in his life affected and influenced his music.
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TCHAIKOVSKY is a beautifully written and narrated and acted biopic of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 - November 6, 1893). Though there will be those who object to subtitling this opinion with the name of Sir Edward Elgar's brilliant opus, after seeing this film the label may seem more suitable. What makes this BBC 2 part docudrama (both parts are on this one CD together with a 1993 'Omnibus: Who Killed Tchaikovsky?' special) is the choice of narrator: conductor and music historian Charles Hazlewood is our guide through this very well mixed combination of acted flashbacks of the life and times of Tchaikovsky while sharing his discussion with moments of conducting the Mariinsky Young Philharmonic in excerpts from Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Eugene Onegin, the Piano Concerto No. 1, the Violin Concerto and Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6. The concept and script were written by Director Matthew Whiteman, with Suzy Klein, and the cinematic dramatic portions are quite good.

Part One, 'The Creation of Genius', focuses on the childhood of Tchaikovsky (played with great empathy by Ed Stoppard) with his family history included - the fact that Tchaikovsky was forced to attend school to be trained as a lawyer, his devastation when his beloved mother died of choler when he was only 14 years old, and his entry into music where beginning with his composition of Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture he became recognized as an exciting force in Russian music, moving on to become a teacher at the academy in St Petersburg and continued to master the art of writing for the ballet (few truly fine composers had composed specifically for the ballet at that point) and line of 6 symphonies that followed.

Part Two, 'Fortune and Tragedy' explores Tchaikovsky who together with his supportive brother Modest (William Mannering) were homosexuals when same sex alliance was considered a crime in Russia, punishable by being exiled to Siberia. Tchaikovsky feared discovery of his sexuality, knowing that public knowledge would end the career he was working so hard to create. Despite the fact that he was very active, preferring frequent anonymous encounters in the night streets of St. Petersburg but establishing a few solid affairs also, Tchaikovsky decided that he must marry as a cover. He met and married Antonina Milyukova (Alice Glover) while simultaneously carrying on a passionate affair confined to letter correspondence with the wealthy patroness Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck. When it became obvious that Tchaikovsky could not fulfill his marital duties with Antonina he fled the country and with the financial support of von Meck he traveled to Italy and Switzerland where his compositions flourished. Returning to Russia as a full fledged musical genius he composed his great works at his quiet home in Klin attended by his beloved nephew Valdimir Davidov, ending with the Symphony No. 6 'Pathétique', dying apparently of cholera nine days after he conducted its premiere in St. Petersburg at the young age of 53. The controversy over the death of Tchaikovsky - whether it was accidental or suicide remains a conundrum to this day.

Charles Hazlewood proves to be a fine guide and conductor and interviews his orchestra embers and various people who have insight as to Tchaikovsky's life and music. There are some very fine performances of the piano and violin concerti and the letter scene form Eugene Onegin by young very promising Russian artists. Many excerpts of both Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty are also included - beautifully photographed. Some viewers will find the focus on Tchaikovsky's sexuality excessive, while others will appreciate the insights as to why the idiosyncratic man was able to draw more passion form his music than most other composers of Russia. The overall picture of the life of a great artist is beautifully sculpted and deserves a wide audience. The accompanying featurette "Omnibus: Who Killed Tchaikovsky?" while interesting and well documented feels more like sensational journalism when compared tot he dignity of the two part series. For all music lovers this DVD is worth viewing and placing in the library. Grady Harp, June 11
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on June 16, 2014
What can anyone say about this famous person. His music is so thrilling and his life story is so tragic. The film is great for following the life and times of Tchaikovsky from early childhood to his tragic death some 54 years later. It is a sad and yet wonderful life this great man led. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who is a lover of classical music and a good story. The film came in perfect condition and on time. You can't beat the price for this great masterpiece.
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on January 13, 2013
I'm surprised that one buyer was put off with the scenes of Hazelwood conducting. The point is that this film was NOT merely a life of Tchaikovsky but a brilliant musical performance by a great youth orchestra and a brilliant conductor. I would have been happy to have watched a lot more of Hazelwood conducting. I know Tchaikovsky's music very well and have been listening to it for well over half a century, yet I learned new things from Hazelwood's discussions. And I was deeply moved by the performances from young musicians. This film was NOT designed to be a movie of Tchaikovsky's life. It is a BBC documentary weaving together Tchaikovsky's life and art. The only way it could have been better was if could have been much longer with full performances from Hazelwood and the Mariinsky Youth Orchestra.
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on November 20, 2009
Excellent, excellent movie which is well worth buying.
I've watched it numerous times and find it very informative. Tchaikovsky was a musical genius whose music will live forever. Most of his important works are included in this dvd. However, his Symphony #5 was not mentioned. The movie is an interesting combination of his life experiences and his music. It seems as though every major work was related to events of his life, and the movie tries to point this out. This is a very honest look at his life and his music. So beware!
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