Fantasia – Live in Concert
Louis Schwizgebel (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Chris Caspell
Reviewed: 21 October, 2012
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Disney’s animated film Fantasia dates from 1940 and consists of eight segments set to classical music arranged by Leopold Stokowski. In 1999, Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney co-produced a sequel entitled Fantasia 2000. Again, the film set eight classical pieces, this time conducted by James Levine.
The origins of Fantasia lie with Walt Disney himself who felt that his alter ego, Mickey Mouse, needed a popularity boost. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, based upon Goethe’s poem, using Paul Dukas’s score, was to be the vehicle. However with ever escalating costs it soon became clear that this short film alone would not make back the sum invested. Discussions with Stokowski led to music being selected to make up a feature film in the form of a concert with critic and radio commentator Deems Taylor providing an introduction to each of the film’s sections.
At the time, the work done on the soundtrack was groundbreaking, even if in today’s digital world, the idea of a different sound emanating from each loudspeaker sounds mundane. Disney wanted to make the audiences feel like they were on the podium with the conductor and with this idea in mind Fantasound was developed. Despite grossing more than $1.3 million in five months the costs of installing Fantasound in theatres made further screenings untenable. With the outbreak of the Second World War preventing a release in Europe the Fantasound setups were dismantled and the project made a massive loss.
On various anniversaries of the original film, Fantasia received video, DVD and HD releases. Missing from the Royal Albert Hall presentation was the Deems Taylor (or any other) commentary. Without a master of ceremonies the evening lacked cohesion and a trick was missed. That aside, the performances were, on the whole, very enjoyable. After a rocky start (the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth) for which the orchestra was not in sync with the screen action, things settled down. Stokowski’s theatrical take on Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony (with added bass drum in the ‘Storm’) is an effective accompaniment to the restored pictures that sparkled fresh and vivid. Cut from the original footage but reunited in 1996, ‘Clair de lune’ from Debussy’s for-piano Suite bergamasque as orchestrated by Stokowski is much heavier than the moonlight of the title; however the LPO performance (playing its second Fantasia of the day) was sublime.
Louis Schwizgebel (a Finalist in this year’s Leeds International Piano Competition) played Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, then Bumble Boogie – Freddy Martin’s swing-jazz homage to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee – from the 1948 film Melody Time. Schwizgebel gave an impressive account of both pieces playing from within the orchestra.
This performance harked back to Disney’s desire to make the audience feel like it is in the same room as the orchestra, made much easier when there is an orchestra in the room. But since Disney spent so much time ensuring that the best recording was made it begs the question why put on such a concert in the first place? The music needs to ‘keep up’ with the visuals, so a uniquely idiomatic performance is impossible; why not simply play the 2010 restored film?
The next film with live music in the Royal Albert Hall is in March 2013, a screening to celebrate the 60th-anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra