Filmed by W.G. Longstore Inc. for A&E Network. Exec producers, Robb Weller, Gary H. Grossman; producer, Gary Milkis; director, Bob Bowker; production designer, Rene Lagler; video, Keith Winnikof, Steve Berry; camera, Parker Bartlett, Don Davis, Tom Harvey, Wayne Norman, Esteban Class, Tomas Ledesma, Carlos Morales, Van Carlson; editors, Terry Pickford, Charlie Ryan; sound, David Greene, Ruben Aburna. TX:Performers: Yehudi Menuhin, Krzysztof Penderecki, Woldemar Nelsson, Helen Huang, German String Trio, Jose Ramos Santana, Christiane Edinger, Natasha Lomienko, Wei-Wei Le, Edda Moser, Bent Norup, Joergen Klint, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, San Juan Philharmonic Chorale. TX:Host: Elliott Forrest. From sun-drenched Puerto Rico in the summertime comes this new year’s musical postcard, full of pretty pictures, adequate to very good musicmaking, and even some glimpses of Festival Casals’ eternally youthful founder. Twenty-two years after his death, it still does, judging from the universally reverent comments by 1995’s guest artists captured here. Indeed, some endearing clips of Casals in action on the cello and with a baton inevitably turn up, and he still seems far more animated and full of life than most of the artists at last year’s festival.
Interestingly, when composer (and festival director) Krzysztof Penderecki pays tribute to Casals, he says he is doing something with the festival that Casals refused to do — present music of today. With a resounding lack of courage, the program offers only a few fleeting, unsatisfying seconds of that side of the festival, concentrating on old and safe repertoire so as not to offend tender ears.
One point in the program’s favor is the inclusion of humanizing biographical featurettes on some of the artists, enhancing what could have been just another series of isolated concert clips. Occasionally the cameras depart the concert hall entirely as the artists mimic the soundtrack in various picturesque spots around San Juan.
Yet instead of presenting complete individual movements, which would have made more musical sense, the program often provides heavily if cleverly edited summaries of the whole works (the viewer is not told these are Reader’s Digest versions). For classical buffs, this will be as annoying as those infernal commercials that routinely cut up classical passages into sound-bites.
Among the better instrumental passages are Yehudi Menuhin’s luscious, anything-but-stormy account of Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” overture with the Royal Philharmonic and the tiny hands of 12-year-old pianist Helen Huang easily gliding through the bone-crunching thirds of a Chopin etude.
There also is a rarely encountered example of Penderecki conducting music other than his own, accompanying the edgy, wayward playing of violinist Christiane Edinger in an abbreviated Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1.
Elliott Forrest presides as an affable “Live at Lincoln Center”-style emcee, although he isn’t sure how to pronounce the name of the host island.