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A fascinating documentary on some of the greatest conductors of all time
Conducting may not be an expertise of mine, but watching a conductor at work is a great way at how to perform, how to work as an ensemble and how to communicate the music. This documentary The Art of Conducting: Great Conductors of the Past was truly fascinating from this respect, for a biography of the conductors this might not be ideal which is understandable because there's a lot to talk about in a short space of time(if there was a quibble I do think it could have been longer, more could have been said perhaps of Klemperer and Koussevitzky) but for talking about performing and personalities this is invaluable. The footage is remarkably clear and edited slickly enough. The camera work is warm and intimate with expansive glimpses of the orchestra and seeing the conductor's mannerisms up close. Thank goodness for no superfluous shots of random objects. The music as expected is magnificent and is well-preserved, remarkable for footage that varies so much in how old it is for each conductor. The commentary is well-written and not intrusive or too much, and what there is of biographical content is a mix of stuff that we do know(like with Toscanini, Karajan and Bernstein) and surprises(Furtwangler, Klemperer and Koussevitzky, a new name to me) which was nice. The contributions from the artists being interviewed was one of the many things that made The Art of Conducting so good, the best coming from Yehudi Menuhin, who is so expressive in everything he does while not being hyperbolic that you want to listen to him for hours, and George Szell who's hilarious particularly in his discussing of a Richard Strauss performance. Isaac Stern, while a touch pompous at times, was also enjoyable, especially with what he said about Bernstein(which I agreed with too). The stars are the conductors themselves, loved all the interesting mannerisms like Karajan with his eyes closed, Stokowski with his long elegant hand gestures and Bernstein looking so animated. Toscanini's temper tantrums are well documented, Beecham's segment is so humorous and charming and John Barbirolli ironing out a bassline was similarly fun, seeing Richard Strauss himself conducting was a delight in itself too. Fritz Reiner is a tad rigid in his segment but that can be put down to his declining health and the stage in his career, a very interesting and beautifully done segment though. But the most interesting was those for Walter, Stokowski and Szell, they were the most relevant and best illustrated from personal view. The omission of Karl Bohm was very surprising though. To conclude, fascinating and superbly done documentary that all classical music enthusiasts and performers should see and not be without. 9.5/10 Bethany Cox
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