23 June 2011 | gradyharp
Tchaikovsky: Enigma Variations
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.