This website is about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, painting, and sculpture. We call these recordings "HDVDs." Below are hundreds of stories about HDVDs, including critical reviews that are hard to find on the Internet. But first check out our Title Index/Alphalist, the world's only list of all fine-arts videos available in high-quality HD.

It's August 19. We just posted an updated review of the Fauré Requiem concert disc and gave it a "C" grade. This was a great performance of some wonderful music, but it's marred by DVDitis compounded with adult attention deficit disorder. Read our story and special article to learn more about these dread diseases.

Back in 2010, Arthaus published a Peter & der Wolf, a wonderful "A+" short animated film with the Prokofiev music. Alas,  it was in all-German presentation and limited to Region B. But now Arthaus has issued an Engish version that's region free!

We are now coming into our new-title "silly season."  The publishers will be pushing product onto the market hard so you can buy stuff before Christmas. We recently posted 12 new titles, and we are working on others. This can be time-consuming because the early new-title PR releases tend to be incomplete and rife with errors, which we try to correct.  Often there's confusion about the artwork that will be on the keepcases. Check back again---there are a lot of interesting titles in the pipeline.

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Tuesday
Aug192014

Requiem

Fauré Requiem concert. Performed 2011 at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Features the following pieces by Fauré for orchestra and chorus:

1. Pavane in F sharp minor, Op. 50  [6:44] (Popular piece based on a Spanish dance called the pavane)

2. Élégie in C minor, Op. 24  [7:23] (cello Eric Picard) (chorus rests)

2. Super flumina Babylonis  [11:00]  ("By the rivers of Babylon")

3. Cantique de Jean Racine in D flat major, Op. 11  [6:08] ("Hymn of Racine")

4. Requiem in D minor, Op. 48 [37:30] (soprano Chen Reiss and baritone Matthias Goerne)

Paavo Järvi conducts the Orchestre de Paris and the Chœur de l'Orchestre de Paris (Chorus Director Stephen Betteridge). Directed for TV by Isabelle Soulard; film edited by  Richard Poisson; audio by Aurélie Messonnier; produced by Sabrina Iwanski.  Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C

General Comments

The music on this disc is relatively unknown. This obscurity is a bit of a puzzle, because all the music, while modern enough to be relevant today, is melodic and relaxing to the point of being blissful. Most of the selections are religious, but there's nothing pompous, imposing, or sanctimonious about them. The more I listened to this disc, the more I liked it, even though I have plenty of criticism as to how it could have been better made.

PQ is weak throughout. As you can see from the screenshots below, the lighting on the Pleyel stage was spotty and probably low. I also question whether Soulard had adequate video cameras. On my 59" calibrated plasma display the image has soft resolution (that seems to be somewhere between HD and SD) and looks hazy. There is glare from the sheet music and skin tones are often pink. Gordon Smith in France, who uses a projector, reports that "the lighting is terrible [and] washes out the image.. . .  killing any contrast."  I found that the poor PQ didn't in itself keep me from admiring the beauty of the performance, but it's definitely not what we have a right to expert in a full-priced HDVD.

SQ also falls short of today's standards. I think the music was recorded using 48kHz/16-bit sound sampling. Today I would expect at least 48kHz/20-bit, or better yet, 96kHz/24-bit sound. Generally the sound is enjoyable, and I heard considerable dynamic contrast on my system. The devil pops up in the details. There's a lot of pizzicato in Fauré's music. I could see the strings being plucked and I could hear them, but only faintly and without verve. I could hear the harp, but not well; I doubt that she had her own mike.

Gordon Smith often watches symphony HDVDs with headphones and stereo sound. He reports that the left and right channels is stereo mode are incorrectly reversed. So when the soprano (in the Requiem) stands on the left side of the the stage as seen by the viewer,  the sound of her voice comes from the right earphone. (I was not able to duplicate this in my HT, which is too small to have a center speaker. To me the voice of the soprano seems to come from the center.)

Requiem

The Requiem recording has an acute case of DVDitis. See our special article on this dread disease for more about the cause and symptoms of DVDitis. I ran the numbers. The Requiem lasts 37.5 minutes and has at least 300 cuts. That's  7.5 seconds for the average cut. This is too fast for a short piece of serene music. The very fastest recordings I have measured have cuts that average about 5 seconds. The best symphony HDVDs have cuts that average 15+ seconds each.

The good symphony HDVD will proceed at a stately pace to show the viewer plenty of whole-orchestra shots as well as shots of whole sections and multiple sections. Featured soloists will, of course, receive special attention. This will be augmented with a modest number of shots of first-chair soloists and the conductor. The idea is to start the viewer off with a show similar to what he would experience at a live concert, and then add value through close-up shots that the spectator at the live performance can't see.

Soulard and Poisson give us not even one whole-orchestra shot from the Requiem. At 00:37:33 there is a single shot that embraces the whole orchestra, but it doesn't count because the angle hides many of the musicians:

The picture above shows that the orchestra is placed on the stage off-center to the right (there are 2 ranks of double basses on the right that are not balanced off on the left). The shot below shows that the chorus was placed on the stage off-center to the left. All this imbalance may have made it harder to get good whole-orchestra shots:

There are several shots like the one below that perhaps were intended to be whole-orchestra shots but don't count because they miss a double bass:

In all the pictures above, some of the singers in the chorus are in a shadow. In the view below, the entire chorus recedes into gloom. Did someone turn the lights off in the middle of the show? I don't think so. Maybe this is some kind of gross camera error:

 

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Monday
Aug112014

Bruckner Symphony No. 5

Bruckner Symphony No. 5. Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 2013. Released 2014. Grade: Help!

Please help by writing a mini-review about this title! 

Monday
Aug112014

Arabella

Strauss Arabella opera to a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Directed 2014 by Florentine Klepper at the Salzburg Easter Festival. Stars Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Albert Dohmen, Gabriela Beňačková, and Hanna-Elisabeth Müller. Christian Thielemann conducts the Staatskapelle Dresden adn the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio Sound. Grade: Help!

Please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

Wednesday
Aug062014

Peter & the Wolf 

Sergei Prokofiev Peter & the Wolf orchestra suite. A tale of two Peters: the image on the left with the dark blue background is the new Arthaus Peter & the Wolf (Catalogue #108113) that is region free. The image on the right with the duck and wolf is the old Arthaus Peter & der Wolf (Catalogue #502487) that is limited to Region B. The old version came out in 2010; the new version dates to September 1, 2014.

We think the annimated film and the documentary will be the same. But there are changes in the presentation to ready  the new version for the world market. For example, the keepcase art and booklet for the old version was entirely in German ("und" in the title and "Oscar Gewinner" on the front). But the keepcase art for the new version is in English ("and" in the title and "Oscar Winner"). This situation is confusing to everyone except certain businessmen and lawyers. But the upshot is good because this is a very nice film that deserves to be seen worldwide. We have rewritten our review to help spread the news.

The feature firm lasts 34 minutes, and there is about an hour of high-quality bonus material. Mark Stephenson conducted a new recording of the Prokofiev score with the Philharmonia Orchestra.  Both discs will apparently have 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. The auflösung or resolution is described on the keep case of the old disc as "1080/24P Full HD." It appears the resolution of the new disc is 1080i.   Grade: X-A+

First comment. The stop-motion animation in this film, which required the work of scores of people over 5 years, is impressive and delightful. The storytelling is first rate too. It won an Oscar in 2008. There is no narration. It's a joy to watch as a nice short film and as an example of stop-motion animation at its peak. The disc also has interesting bonus materials about the music and the making of the film.

This film is short because the musical score was written for the attention span of young children. Finally, we are not sure how many adults would consider stop-motion animation to be a fine-arts form. For these reasons, we give this Peter & der Wolf the grade of X. But the grade is A+ if there are kids in your life, if you are interested in animation, or if you love Prokofiev. Henry McFadyen III 2010.

Second comment. When I was 5 or 6, my mom played Peter and the Wolf for me from an album of three 78-rpm discs recorded by RCA Victor in 1939 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the traditional Prokofiev narration delivered by Richard Hale. I don't think I heard Peter and the Wolf for the next 65 years. But before I put this HDVD in 2011 on our Region B Blu-ray player, I could still sing the "Peter" leitmotive and I still remembered which instruments represent the bird, the duck, the cat, the grandfather, and the hunters.  I was expecting Suzie Tempelton's animated film to be like my mom's 78-rpm album. Well, the leap from 78-rpm to HDVD is pretty broad, and so is the difference between the Prokofiev narration and the Tempelton's animation.

By using the music only (and dropping the narration), Tempelton was able to move grandfather and his shack from old Russia to a spot right on the border between the vast Siberian wilderness and the squalor of a contemporary Russian village. But a bigger change was her transformation of the story from a cute nursery tale into a mini Bildungsroman ("apprentice novel") in which Peter grows from a victim into a victor. The more you watch this film, the more you see how cleverly it is put together. And there's just as much here to please the adults as the kids.

Here a screenshot from the documentary showing the scale of the models created for this. The craftmanship and artistry that went into this is astounding:

Peter is a tender boy:

His best friend is the duck:

He lives here:

With is grandfather, who keeps his shotgun handy if a wolf should show up:

And a cat that sleeps with the old man:

 

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Monday
Aug042014

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet ballet. Music by Prokofiev. Libretto by Leonid Lavrovsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Staged 2013 at the Mariinsky Theatre under Ballet Master Yuri Fateyev. Stars Diana Vishneva (Juliet), Vladimir Shklyarov (Romeo), Alexander Sergeyev (Mercutio), Islom Baimurado (Benvolio) , Ilya Kuznetsov (Tybalt), and dancers of the Mariinsky Balle. Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra. Set and costume design by Pyotr Williams; directed for TV by Olivier Simonnet.Released 2014, disc has stereo sound. Grade: Help!

Ballet titles from leading houses typically have surround sound, so perhaps the information we now have about the stereo sound is incompete. If the sound is only in stereo, we will make an exception and report on this title here an this appears to be a modern production of a Mariinsky classic filmed in HD in 2013.

This title includes a Blu-ray and a DVD in a "double play" package.

Please help us by writing a comment that we can place  as a mini-review of this title.

Monday
Aug042014

Anna Netrebko - Live from the Salzburg Festival

Anna Netrebko - Live from the Salzburg Festival opera "box" with 3 discs and some special new literature in the keepcase. Below are the discs. Each of them has already been reported on this website, and you can get complete details by using the links provided:

1. Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro. 2006. Anna stars as Susanna. (Grade B)

2. Puccini, La Bohème. 2012. Anna stars as Mimi. (Grade C)

3. Verdi, La Traviata. 2005. Anna stars as Violetta. (Grade B-)

Released 2014, each opera  has 5.0 or 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Composit Grade: B- 

Nothing new here. Buy two and get another free.

 

Monday
Aug042014

The Merchant of Venice

André Tchaikowsky The Merchant of Venice opera. Directed 2013 by Keith Warner at the Bregenz Festival. Stars Richard Angas (Duke of Venice), Christopher Ainslie (Antonio), Charles Workman (Bassanio), Adrian Clarke (Salerio), Norman Patzke (Solanio), David Stout (Gratiano), Jason Bridges (Lorenzo), Adrian Eröd (Shylock), Kathryn Lewek (Jessica), Magdalena Anna Hofmann (Portia), Verena Gunz (Nerissa), Hanna Herfurtner (A Boy), Juliusz Kubiak (Prince of Aragon), and Elliot Lebogang Mohlamme (Prince of Morocco). Erik Nielsen conducts the Wiener Symphoniker and the Prague Philharmonic Choir (Chorus Master Lukáš Vasilek). Set and costume design by Ashley Martin-Davis; lighting design by Davy Cunningham; movement direction by Michael Barry; associate direction by Amy Lane; video direction by Felix Breisach.Released 2014, this disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: Help!

David Pountney is the Artistic Director of the Bregenz Festival where he directed the world premiere of The Passenger opera in 2010. Now he gets credit for another world premiere with the Bregenz production of The Merchant of Venice by André Tchaikowsky. Tchaikowsky finished his The Merchant of Venice in 1982, but nobody would take a chance on staging it until Poutney took it up.

André Tchaikowsky's real name was Krauthammer. A Polish Jew, he lived for a while as a child in the Warsaw Ghetto. But his mother acquired a false ID for him with the name Tchaikowsky. They left the ghetto and survived the war in hiding. After WW II, André had a successful career as pianist, but his real love was composing. He was also a Shakespeare fan.

The man in the image above is David Tennant playing Hamlet in the grave-digger scene. Tennant is holding in his hand the actual skull of André Tchaikowsky. André left his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company with the request that it be used a prop in this scene. For some time the Company members debated whether it would be in good taste or even ethical to do this. But the legend of the skull and its fame continued to grow until the Company decided to honor Tchaikowsky's request. I'm not making this up. You can research this as I did on the Internet, where everything you read is, of course, accurate and true.

Please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

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