A documentary on the legendary composer/conductor/pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff is obviously a worthy addition to film literature. The fact that this is a flawed work is both unfortunate and unworthy of its subject. What are we to do? Be pleased with what we have been given and say nothing critical about it-----or point out what diminishes the film as a work of art?
Permit someone who greatly admires Rachmaninoff to note where he was disappointed by "The Harvest of Sorrow." At the very outset, a most unwise major artistic decision was made to use the then 94 year old John Gielgud as the narrator who gave us Rachmaninoff's voice during the course of the film----reading sections of his journal that were believed apt to the respective scenes then being presented. This may have been one of Gielgud's very last show business efforts----and it surely is one of his least effective ones. At this point, his voice was quite weak, at times unintelligible and consistently irritating. Was he the only choice available? Unlikely.
Rachmaninoff is widely considered to be one of the greatest classical pianists of the first half of the 20th century. This fact is glossed over in favor of numerous references to several of his most famous compositions---some noted many times via excerpts. He had a close friendship with pianist Vladimir Horowitz that was never even mentioned. Why?
Rachmaninoff enjoyed a "special" artistic relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra----first under Stokowski and then under Ormandy. They collaborated often in the concert hall and in the very significant project of recording all of Rachamaninoff's works for piano and orchestra. This was never mentioned---even though these recordings are legendary historical landmarks. Surely the satisfaction Rachmaninoff must have enjoyed in this collaboration mitigated some of the "sorrow" that was emphasized to an extreme as the motif of this film.
And while "The Harvest of Sorrow" is greatly tilted in the direction of a consideration of Rachmaninoff's compositions, there were (as the other commentator pointed out) some very key omissions. Apart from the fact that the first and fourth piano concertos seemed never to have existed because of their being ignored by the film narrative, the same fate also overtook "The Bells"-----an important early work for orchestra and chorus. Why?
Rachmaninoff allegedly was so disappointed in his first symphony that he vowed to eradicate its existence. Yet it survives. Why?
What happened to his wife and two daughters? We meet a niece and grandson---and that's all we know of his family after he left Russia. Were they part of his "sorrow"?
The many archival clips are valuable and interesting. But given the fact that Rachmaninoff did not die until 1943, is it not reasonable to infer that he had been interviewed at some point while in the USA? Why were we denied the opportunity to hear his real voice?
I am grateful for the gems embedded in "The Harvest of Sorrow"----and there are many of them. However, I am frustrated by the realization of what an even greater film this might have been.
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