This three-hour compilation surveying the life and works of Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Mahler completes the BBC Great Composers
series (the two previous releases contain the pairings of Bach/Mozart
). It's a splendid series, full of judiciously collected biographical information, lively and telling visuals, colourful anecdotes and excellent excerpted performances of the composers' best works. The directors' styles are very different, from Kriss Rusmanis' impressionistic approach (with an early chamber piece of Mahler's accompanied by shots of rippling brooks and dappled sunlight) to Chris Hunt's more forthright take on Puccini, but each is well tailored to the subject matter. There is a certain amount of psychological speculation in each case (Mahler may have inherited his sense of irony from watching nine of his siblings die while the jolly life of his father's tavern continued unabated, for example) but there's nothing outrageous.
If you haven't hooked up your TV to some decent speakers the performances may sound a little pinched, but they are so good the quality shines through nonetheless; particularly noteworthy is Thomas Hampson's glorious reading of excerpts from Kindertotenlieder, and Georg Solti is on top form.
On the DVD: Great Composers on disc comes with subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, but no other special features. --Warwick Thompson
Feature running time: 177 mins approx
Widescreen Format: 1.85:1
Languages: English / Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: English / Francais / Deutsch / Espanol / Italiano