5 February 2017 | TheLittleSongbird
Musical bliss, narrative hokum
As an enormous lifelong fan of classical music and opera, 'Carnegie Hall' was seen with much eagerness and no hesitation. After seeing it, the film isn't great but there are also a lot of pleasures, though perhaps one will enjoy it better if a classical music fan to recognise the music and the stars involved.
The weakest element of 'Carnegie Hall' is the story, which is pure paper thin hokum, that gets increasingly thinner, draggy and credibility straining as the film progresses. Didn't mind that it was a clichéd kind of story, there are a lot of clichéd stories in films that still work, did mind that not much interesting was done with the non-musical side of the film. Also at times feels too stretched and over-stuffed with a few scenes that go on a bit longer than needed and with too many characters.
Contrived and flimsy scripting also works against 'Carnegie Hall', and most of the acting that's not the classical music stars is not particularly great with William Prince being rather anonymous. The sole exception in this regard is Marsha Hunt, who deserved better but brings authority, poignancy, firmness and dignity to her role.
Onto the positives now. Much of 'Carnegie Hall' looks very pleasing, with some lovely noir-like lighting, atmospheric use of shadows and mostly fluid and eye-catching camera work (if admittedly a bit static in the early parts). It's competently directed, informative, inspiring and moving in the best of its parts, and absolutely nothing can be said against Hunt.
Best of all are the music and the assemblage of classical music/operatic stars. On the musical side, 'Carnegie Hall' couldn't have been more blissful, with the opportunities of seeing and hearing Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Mozart, Delibes et al. performed so brilliantly being a joy, and while this may not be good news to some to me it was lovely to have musical selections sizeable in length, these pieces are just too good to only have in snippet form so having it done the way it was here felt like the music and performers were being done justice.
With the stars, picking a favourite is impossible and you not only see them on top form but you see their personalities. The virtuosity of Artur Rubenstein in the Chopin, with those enigmatic flourishes, was a delight, and Jascha Heifetz plays Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto at a tempo that has never been done that fast and what sounds impossible is done with envious nimbleness by him with the intensity enough to make fires blaze. Leopold Stokowski features interestingly, again conducting Tchaikovsky in a way seldom done before, and 'Carnegie Hall' offers a rare chance of seeing Fritz Reiner and Walter Damrosch on film.
As an opera fanatic, particularly of the "golden age of opera", it was even more of a treat seeing fairly rare glimpses of Lily Pons, Rise Stevens and Ezio Pinza in their signature roles and arias of Lakme, Carmen and Don Giovanni respectively, all three sounding glorious.
Overall impressions are when it comes to the musical side of things 'Carnegie Hall' soars majestically. In the sections where story or drama is featured more, it does falter. 7/10 Bethany Cox