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Notes Interdites [DVD Video]

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

From 1917 to 1990, the Soviet Union was the locus of a fascinating paradox which this film highlights: In a context of extreme material and psychological hardship, even terror, there flowered some of the richest, most intense musical activity of the twentieth century. Brilliant performers, major composers, great orchestras exercised their art during these 70 years in dangerous and precarious conditions that were sometimes grotesque, always grueling. The story of this period is the subject of our film, told by those who lived through it, and foremost among them, the Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Gennady Rozhdestvensky, born in 1931 to a conductor father and a singer mother, stood at the heart of this epic : Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Schnittke all dedicated work to him, he premiered such major works as Prokofiev's 4th Symphony, Shostakovich's opera "The Nose", based on Gogol, and symphonies by Schnittke. He has worked with the greatest performers, among them Oistrakh, Gillels, Richter and Rostropovich. He also survived the tyranny of the all-powerful Composers Union, the absurdities of Gosconcert, the first tours abroad, the persecution of Jewish musicians, the musical dictates of Stalin and Zhdanov, the insidious day-to-day terror... Oral accounts, archives and music are the ingredients with which we have recreated this extraordinary artistic and historical fresco.


To sum up, I can say is that this is priceless stuff and fully worth the attention of serious listeners (and viewers) of classical music. --, Robert Cummings

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Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Rozhdestvensky
  • Directors: Bruno Monsaingeon
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0), French (Dolby Digital 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English, French
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Ideale Audience
  • DVD Release Date: February 26, 2008
  • Run Time: 155 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0012K53UE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,370 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Mr. Louis Blois on March 17, 2008
Bruno Monsaingeon's two films, "Red Button" and "Gennady Rozhdestvensky: Conductor or Conjurer?" are contained on this DVD.

"Red Button" is built around two extensive interviews with two of the prominent Russian conductors of the past half century, Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Rudolph Barshai. It features ongoing interviews with these men about their experiences during the postwar years of artistic repression in the SU. It contains numerous personal accounts and personal revelations that will at times even surprise the viewer who will already be familiar with the abhorrent events of the Zhdanov era and its aftermath. But here it is, recounted by the luminaries who actually were there to suffer its consequences.

The film includes fascinating file footage of Dmitri Shostakovich reading prepared texts at one of the public pony shows, and later, all too briefly, a shot of him in animated conversation with Rozhdesetvensky at a rehearsal of one of his works. We also see a youngish Tikhon Khrennikov delivering an address in his impassioned style, singing the praises of Stalin's draconian policies on the arts. We later see him accompanying himself on the piano to one of his folksy songs ("Alioka"?); and we also see a snip of the elder Khrennikov proclaiming that his intentions during his leadership years were ultimately for the protection of his fellow composers. This is followed by contradictory remarks by Rozhdestvensky, including a recounting of Khrennikov's wiley attempts at preventing Alfred Schnittke's First Symphony from receiving a performance.

The second film portrays Rozhdestvensky as a highly charismatic fellow, full of humor as well as a rich and articulate store of musical insight.
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The two documentaries on this disc paint a vivid picture of musical life during the 70 years of dictatorial Soviet rule. "The Red Baton" focuses on the doctrine of Socialist Realism to which artists in all media were expected to adhere. For musicians, this meant creating works that did not exhibit so-called "formalist" elements such as dissonance and atonality. Those who deviated from the party line were dealt with harshly, including public censure by the government-controlled media and the banning of many of their works. The film relies on the oral history of two key personalities who lived through many of the events: famed conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and viola player Rudolf Barshai. Much of their testimony revolves around the notorious 1948 Congress of the Union of Soviet Composers, during which Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich and others were savagely denounced by Tikhon Khrennikov, leader of the composers union and widely perceived as a lackey of the ruling elite. Their remembrances are moving and tragic, although Rozhdestvensky also finds a measure of black humor in the hypocrisy and madness of the era. It's a fascinating document, but at 55 minutes is too short to really do justice to its subject, and doesn't account for the staggering amount of brilliant work achieved during those dark decades. The second film, "Gennadi Rozhdestvensky: Conductor or Conjuror?" is a less political, more personal look at the day-to-day business of music making, as the famous maestro is shown in his varied roles as conductor, performer, philosopher and mentor. Less ambitious than "The Red Baton," it's ultimately a more successful documentary, enlivened by Rozhdestvensky's down to earth charisma and sardonic humor.
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Those of us living free and enjoying all kinds of music in Western democracies can have little idea of what it must be like to live in a society where every aspect of life, including music, is controlled by the state. This was certainly the case in the Soviet Union under dictator Josef Stalin. A glimpse of how this played out and affected composers and musicians (as well as audiences) is shown in the brilliant film by Bruno Monsaingeon “The Red Baton” in which the noted conductor and teacher Gennadi Rozhdestvensky recalls the situation that prevailed. The film combines personal reminiscences and documentary footage to show how totally controlled musical life was. Rozhdestvensky speaks about how this affected leading composers such as Shostakovitch and Prokofiev, as well as artists such as David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter whose repertoire, concert schedules and travels were totally controlled by State bureaucracies. This is essential viewing.
The DVD also contains three additional films by Montsaingeon: “Gennadi Rozdestvensky: Conductor or Conjurer” an utterly delightful portrait of a brilliant conductor and teacher whose quirky baton technique nevertheless achieves complete mastery of the orchestra and the music. His insights into the art of the conductor are worth the price of admission alone. It certainly made me appreciate his recordings with new ears. Finally, there are two bonuses: a filmed performance by Rozhdestvensky of Prokofiev’s Zdravitsa, a choral work composed for Stalin’s 60th birthday to a libretto which takes sycophancy to new depths. Following the text in subtitles makes one’s gorge rise and shows what artists had to do in order to stay alive and practice their art.
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