This is a magnificent documentary about the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff directed by the brilliant Tony Palmer. It was made with the assistance of the grandson and niece of Rachmaninoff, and it uses Rachmaninoff's extensive home movies, which were obtained through them. Palmer is such an expert at documentaries about composers that he easily achieves a masterly matching of footage and music throughout the film. The film also features some of the most creative lighting of musical performers that I have ever seen. Also cooperating in the production of this film were the conductor Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg, which Rachmaninoff always referred to as 'my beloved Mariinsky Theatre'. It was Rachmaninoff himself who said that his life had been 'a harvest of sorrow'. Central to the film is the long autobiographical letter which he wrote to his two daughters, which is read aloud in installments on the soundtrack by Sir John Gielgud. There can rarely have been made at any time a more satisfying and moving documentary about a composer than this one. After all, the composer himself effectively wrote the narration! And he even wrote the music! The long-dead Rachmaninoff was thus a de facto collaborator with the film maker, and so intimate is this association, that it is difficult to accept that they never even met. The life and spirit of Rachmaninoff are magnificently evoked, and anyone interested in him, or his music, or indeed in classical music in general, should see this. If only young people could also see it. Copies of the DVD should be given to all music students. Why does no one do this sort of thing? This kind of material is of priceless cultural value, and yet it is largely unknown to those who would find it inspiring.
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