DVD Review: Dvorak – in Love?

Starring: Julian Lloyd Webber, Vaclav Neumann, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Director: Tony Palmer
Rating: 6/10

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShot in Prague in 1988, Dvorak – in Love? (not to be confused with Josef Skvorecky’s similarly titled novel) is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a recording session, with Julian Lloyd Webber, the distinguished conductor Vaclav Neumann and the Czech Philarmonic Orchestra going through their paces on that stalwart of the classical repertoire, the Dvorak cello concerto. Sprinkled in along the way are snippets of what were then newly discovered letters by Dvorak which throw some light on the piece (it grew out of the composer’s unrequited passion for his wife’s sister and he was spurred to write it when she fell ill while he was away in America).

These insights into the man behind the music, although welcome, are too fleeting to Julian Lloyd Webber Dvorak DVD cover.inddmake much of an impact, so the main appeal of the documentary lies in the interesting peek it furnishes into what goes on during the making of a classical CD. For example, it’s fascinating to see them recording the concerto in bits rather than all the way through in one go, and there’s no shortage of unintentional humour and human foibles, with an elderly conductor who communicates mainly by humming and a producer acting like a complete backseat driver, timing them on his digital watch and making a fuss about laggardly tempi (you wince whenever he says, “Maestro, can I now tell you my ideas?”). The cello concerto is a piece of music you don’t get tired of hearing, and the stormy eloquence of the score comes across well, courtesy of a soloist in fine form. The picture’s not a thing of beauty but the sound is very good on the DVD, clear and weighty. Quite short at only 53 minutes, but fun for fans of the great Czech composer.