Maria Joćo Pires: Portrait of a Pianist
A film by Werner Zeindler
Sound Format: PCM Stereo; Audio Languages: DE, FR, PT; Subtitles: GB, FR, DE;
Picture Format: 4:3; DVD 9 / NTSC
rec. 1991
ARTHAUS DVD 109164 [59:00]

The best part of this DVD is the series of performances and rehearsal sequences given by the wonderful Portuguese pianist Maria Joćo Pires. This can hardly be described as a portrait of a pianist. There is no commentary and no real structure to the film. What we have is a number of short interviews with her mother and the pianist herself. She seems to be a lovely, deep-thinking, family-orientated but somewhat insecure lady. She talks of her unhappiness when living in England, Germany and Switzerland - she admits to being a Latin and that is her culture. She speaks about her early life and the reasons for her four year absence from the profession between 1978 and 1982: a minor illness coupled with the need to be with her young family. She talks about wanting to go into outer space and of her ambition to live in the country and own a farm. Her mother talks about her early years when she was a 4 year old prodigy reducing audiences to tears. There’s not much said about the music and that’s where the film falls short. What we don’t get, crucially, is any conversation about the music and the musicians who have inspired her. There are no interviews with her peers. The subtitles are in clumsy pigeon English. Despite my reservations about the content of this film the actual music-making is superb and very enjoyable. The music Pires plays includes Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 23 K488 and 21 K467, as well as his Piano Sonata K280, Chopin’s Nocturne No. 7 in c-sharp minor, Op. 27, No.1, Schumann’s “Abschied” from Waldszenen Op. 82, Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 17 in d-minor, Op. 31, No. 2 and Schubert’s Moments Musicaux No. 2 A flat major D780.

Pires' Mozart playing is a joy and she gives a sensitive, riveting performance of the Chopin Nocturne. For me this was the highlight of the disc. We also see her rehearsing the Poulenc sonata (what a terrific piece) with clarinettist Michel Portal and the Brahms Violin Sonata No.3 with the brilliant Augustin Dumay. Both of these sequences illustrate Ms Pires’ expertise as a wonderful chamber music partner. The level of communication is for all to see in the constant eye contact - there’s a palpable sense of spontaneous creativity taking place. The film opens and closes with Mozart’s Piano Concertos but no mention is made of the orchestra or the venue and date. This lack of attention to detail is disappointing. The scenery is reminiscent of Salzburg and maybe this is from the Festspielhaus but that is a pure guess. It’s great Mozart playing all the same and the finale of the Concerto No.21 brings proceedings to an exhilarating close.

So it’s full marks for the music and the musicianship. The quality of the sound and picture are very good indeed but the film itself isn’t especially interesting and in truth it’s a bit of a let-down.

John Whitmore

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