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Recordings

Carlos Kleiber — Traces to Nowhere
30 Aug 2011

Carlos Kleiber — Traces to Nowhere

Film biographies of great musicians notoriously exhibit a preference for talking heads nattering on over any music passages.

Carlos Kleiber — Traces to Nowhere

A film by Eric Schulz with Placido Domingo, Brigitte Fassbaender, Michael Gielen, Manfred Honeck, Veronika Kleiber, Otto Schenk and others.

ArtHaus Musik 101553 [DVD]

$22.99  Click to buy

No matter how original or astute the spoken observation may be, usually one is left wishing to hear the music without the voice-over. This is particularity frustrating if the selections or repertory are otherwise fairly obscure or rare. If the film biography is of a famous enough subject, opportunities to hear the music unimpeded by spoken commentary should be plentiful. The thoughts expressed by the various “talking heads” might even prompt one to explore, at one’s leisure, recordings that one may not have heard recently, if ever.

Eric Schulz’s film about the career of conductor Carlos Kleiber should fall into that latter camp for most viewers. During the course of a running time just over 70 minutes, many a viewer may tire of the unrelenting format of commentators speaking over archival footage of rehearsals or recordings played over photograph montages. Without too much effort, however, anyone can obtain recordings of Kleiber conducting the Fledermaus overture, Tristan und Isolde, or Brahms’s Symphony no. 4. Schulz omits the questions that prompt the reminiscences of those interviewed, which include the conductor’s sister as well as colleagues obscure and famous. The film is lightly organized, with a vaguely chronological format. As the 70 minutes proceed, therefore, some viewers may grow impatient with the repetitiveness of worshipful comments about Kleiber’s almost mystical ability to communicate his musical intentions to orchestras.

Schulz is also fond of capturing the interviewees simply listening to Kleiber recordings, their eyes aglow with wonder, and sometimes their hands waving lightly, as if conducting the music themselves. But the film doesn’t restrict itself to panegyrics, as Kleiber’s human failings also receive acknowledgement, from his infidelities to his growing self-doubt that caused him to almost withdraw from conducting entirely in the last years of his life.

Probably copyrights prevented Arthaus Musik from providing bonus features such as some of the remarkable rehearsal footage seen in the film in its entirety, without commentary, or even better, a live performance or two. Even so, not only will fans of Kleiber’s art find this documentary fascinating, but anyone who has ever simply wondered, “What is it that conductors really do?” will probably find this film extremely enlightening, without being overly technical about the conductor’s art. The film’s subtitle, “Traces to Nowhere,” gives a rather deceptive sense of the film’s contents. Although the last years of Kleiber’s life and career were sad, the sheer joy he emanated as seen in the Fledermaus overture rehearsal footage show that at his best, Carlos Kleiber conducted in a way that left more than just traces of joy and passion, fortunately forever caught in recordings and at least partly, in Schulz’s film.

Chris Mullins

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