The Art of Violin: The Devil's Instrument / Transcending The Violin
A documentary history of the violin in the 20th century featuring archival footage of many of the instrument's greatest players. Includes contributions from Yehudi Menuhin, Ida Haendel and Hilary Hahn.
A documentary film by Bruno Monsaingeon devoted to the 20th century's greatest violinists, The Art of Violin really cannot be faulted. The same, incidentally, can also be said of the similar volumes that cover the piano and singing, so there's never been a better time to collect a personal audio-visual archive of some wonderful historical performers. The added dimension provided by the painstakingly collected film material (here featuring no fewer than 20 outstanding soloists) is of exceptional value when observing violin technique, and the diversity of approaches presented here in loving detail is in itself a subject for endless comparison. The material mixes archive performance footage, much of which one might never have dreamed existed, with interviews and documentary commentary. However, rather than turn the project into a museum piece, Monsaingeon includes contributions from contemporary figures such as Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn. An absolute must. --Roger Thomas, Amazon.co.uk
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I might add that most of the clips in this film come from DVDs that are already out there, including Monsaingeon's film of Alexander Markov playing the Paganini Caprices (an excellent film and highly recommended. My favorite elements of the film definitely come from Ida Haendel and her comments about Ginette Neveu and other violinists; I have always held her opinions highly and once again she doesn't fail to deliver. She performed and recorded alongside of all the great ones and she knew most of them personally too. It would've been nice to hear her playing any one of her signature concertos - the Elgar, Walton, or Sibelius - but such was not to be. The footage of Michael Rabin was integrated very well into the film - in a short section devoted to prodigies whose careers were cut short - although I would've liked to have heard him playing something other than the Kreisler "Tambourin Chinois", with Milton Berle [big frown] as emcee. Most people do not realize just how important, and enormously talented Rabin was. Also included are a few minutes on Josef Hassid, a great talent on the level of Menuhin and Heifetz who sadly became insane and was dead by age 26. On the DVD cover, Ferras and Grumiaux are listed, but like Kogan, we don't get more than a few moments of their playing.
Elman, Enescu, and Francescatti get some fine coverage, along with Szeryng and Szigeti. Perlman makes an interesting comment about Szeryng - that Szeryng was kind of a mix of all the very greatest fiddlers rolled into one, which is exactly right. Although let's give Szeryng his due credit, he was one of the greatest, and one of the most disciplined performers. The segment on Elman was very welcome for me because barely anything on him still exists other than his recordings - and it was indeed true that Elman, along with others, suffered from "Heifetz'itis" - his career was greatly dampened by Heifetz, although he was still one of the greatest.
If Milstein hadn't gotten almost equal time in the film as Menuhin, I wouldn't have given it 1 star. Luckily Monsaingeon included some of Milstein's best footage including some from a CBS documentary from the early 80s - would've liked to see even more of that! A voiceover at the beginning of the film states that with the passing of Menuhin in 1999, the last of the great fiddlers had left us. Absolutely untrue. Ricci, who was also a student of Louie Persinger (who was also Menuhin's childhood teacher) was, and still is still around - and Ricci was one of the greatest of technicians. Menuhin's performance of the Bach Chaconne, which closes the film, is a far cry from great - and the final comment of the film is Gitlis saying that he was like the angel who came down to Earth. Sorry, I don't agree and I'm (by far) not the only one.
All in all, Monsaingeon made a good film. But it could have been Great if he had expanded it into a really good multi-part series that covered much more. Where was Anne-Sophie Mutter? Zuckerman? Mintz? Sarah Chang? Vengerov? Even Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg? Lelia Josefowicz maybe?? I can't stand Joshua Bell but even he is nowhere to be found here. I think Monsaingeon chose violinists whom he personally thought were the greatest. Kind of selfish, no?
In general this DVD is worth the money. Nowhere else will you get several hours devoted to the violin greats of the 20th century. In this day of digital videos and recordings, we take for granted that everything from a child's first recital to a debut in Carnegie Hall will be captured in living color, with CD's cut for parents to listen to. But when you look back there are so few films of the greats such as Heifetz, Kreisler, none of Ysaye, and the sound, even when remastered or enhanced, cannot escape the submarine-like feel of the recording capabilities of the early 20th century. However when you see the virtuosity being demonstrated it is still incredible.
Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn do a magnificant job of narrating. And since the film was shot shortly before Menuhin's death in 1999, and finished afterwards, it is fitting that the 20th century closed with Menuhin, and this film was kind of a tribute to Menuhin. However in no way was it all about Menuhin, many are covered, even Michael Rabin and Ginette Neveu whose careers were shortened due to tragedy.
With all the narrating by Perlman, I was only a little disappointed that they did not feature his playing. But I guess this leaves another DVD for the violin geniuses of today for later.
as far as the filming techniques and the work of un-puzzling it all together, his job is just wonderful--nice transitions, nice buildup.
at times the viewer just remains wishing for the music to continue.
hard to understand how the 4 musical-referees were chosen. especially controversial i found Hilary Hahn's presence. the value brought by her could be at most didactical--how the younger generations look back into history.
as a suggestion, the movie might have benefited from opinions of the great violin-players--even if those where taken from written materials.