Here's news about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, and paintings. I call these recordings "HDVDs." In the journal below are independent (and hard-to-find critical) reports on hundreds of HDVDs. Pick the best titles for your excelsisphere.

September 24. I just posted a review of Elbphilharmonie Hamburg Opening Concert, a remarkable title about the new billion-dollar Hamburg symphony hall and the first concert given there. I recently finished a review of 2 Beethoven symphonies performed 2015/16  by the Saito Kinen orchestra. This is one of the best symphony HDVDs ever published in the West, but it still falls short of Seiji Ozawa's best work. Bryan Balmer just contributed a review with screenshots of the Herreweghe Dvořák Requiem. The orchestra and chorus in this Requiem are so large that some DVDitis was probably unavoidable when recorded with 2K cameras.

But 4K has now arrived, and we now have reported on four 4K titles. They are a Buniatishvili piano concert, the ROH Nozze di Figaro, a Lohengrin, and a Tosca opera movie. We have our new gear now, and we are starting to audition the titles in 4K. We will report on the new 4K titles soon.

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Sunday
Sep242017

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg: Grand Opening Concert

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg: Grand Opening Concert. This unique title celebrates the opening of the new über-world-class concert hall in Hamburg, Germany---the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg---with a challenging musical evening and a documentary about the amazing building. In early 2017, Thomas Hengelbrock conducts the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, the Ensemble Praetorius, the NDR Choir (chorus master Philipp Ahmann), and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks (chorus master Howard Arman). The Ensemble Praetorius includes: sopranos Ágnes Kovács and Alice Borciani, tenors Mirko Ludwig and Jakob Pilgram, bass-bariton Thilo Dahlann, and Michele Pasotti on theorbo. They are supported (from the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra)  by Roland Greutter and Stefan Pintev on violin as well as Stepan Geiger, Uwe Schrodi, and Uwe Leonbacher on trombone (playing early instruments).

Here is the program, most of which is new in Blu-ray. Mercifully, there apparently was not one spoken word at the concert. All the music was played straight thru with applause only at the intermission break and at the end:

1. Benjamin Britten: "Pan" from Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for solo oboe, Op. 49 (Kalev Kuljus oboe)
2. Henri Dutilleux: "Appels, Échos, et Prismes" from Mystère de l'Instant
3. Emilio De' Cavalieri: "Dalle piu alte sfere" from La Pellegrina (Philippe Jaroussky countertenor and Margret Köll harp)
4. Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Photoptosis / Prelude for large orchestra (Iveta Apkalna organ)
5. Jacob Praetorius: " Quam pulchra es" / Motette for 5 voices and Basso continuo (Ensamble Praetorius)
6. Rolf Liebermann: Furioso (Ya-ou Xie piano)
7. Giulio Caccini: "Amarilli mia bella" from Le nuove muische (Philippe Jaroussky countertenor and Margret Köll harp)
8. Olivier Messiaen: Finale from Turangalîla-Symphonie (Ya-ou Xie piano and Thomas Bloch ondes martenot)
Intermission
9. Richard Wagner: Prelude to Parsifal
10. Wolfgang Rihm: Reminiszenz Triptychon und Spruch in memoriam Hans Henny Jahnn (Pavol Breslik tenor and Iveta Apkalna organ)
11. Ludwig von Beethoven: Fourth Movement  form Symphony No. 9 in D minor (Hanna-Elisabeth Müller soprano,  Wiebke Lehmkuhl alto, Pavol Breslik tenor, Sir Bryn Terfel bass)

The concert runs 112 minutes and is directed for video by Henning Kasten. There is also a 53-minute documentary by Thorsten Mack and Annette Schmaltz about the architecture of the new hall. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

When I started HDVDarts.com in 2007, I expected we would have Blu-ray titles on architecture to enjoy. But this hasn't happened---to my knowledge, there has been not a single Blu-ray published on architecture. But now we have a 53-minute bonus extra, shot mostly in HD, included in this title about the development of the Elbphilharmonie structure. So I divide this review into two segments: (1) the building and (2) the opening concert.

The Building

The new Elbphilharmonie is probably the only multi-purpose skyscraper symphony hall on earth. The first picture below (from photographer Michael Zapf) is the prettiest single image I've seen of the project. The building is on an island in the busy Hamburg port area. In the background you see that the north side of the Elbe river (where the city center is located) is rife with new development. I think this image of the building actually shows the "rear" of the Elbphilharmonie. The white machines are cranes that were used when the base building was a warehouse; they were preserved as reminder of the origins of the project:

On the south bank, one still sees major industrial works supported by Germany's most important harbor:

Below another view of the north bank of the Elbe showing part of the center city. This was taken during construction. The white cranes had been temporarily removed:

The next image below shows a drawing of the the building from what I think is it's front (seen from the north or land side). The base of the building is the shell of an obsolete brick warehouse (that was gutted to the exterior walls). There are meeting rooms and utility areas in the base building.  Visitors ride the world's largest curved escalator from the edge of the waters to a large and permanently open public area used for viewing the town center and the harbor. On top of the old structure is the new "glass crown" of the building. The crown holds a great symphony hall (up to 2,500 seats), smaller spaces for chamber music and recitals, rehearsal rooms, the symphony offices, an hotel, and (at the building's highest area) condominium apartments. Although the top is seen as a crown, it's really a design inspired by waves on the water. Thus the building is a marriage of many opposites: old and new; land and the waters, coarseness and refinement; ancient crafts and modern technology; commercial and residential life; industrial grit and artistic polish. It's a public building with something for everyone and a seat of power for wealthy patrons of the arts:

Next below is a shot of the Great Hall from its rear. This vineyard style auditorium is similar to but more refined than the Berlin Philharmonic hall. The huge circular sound reflector suspended from the ceiling spreads the sound of the orchestra to all points in the room.

The opening concert was the hottest ticket ever in Hamburg, so management came up with a way to appease those who couldn't get a seat --- the damnedest spectacular light show you ever saw painted on and simultaneously shining out of a building---all coordinated with the concert being played inside the Great Hall and ending with the salutation "Hello World":

Now let's delve a bit deeper into the origins and details of the building. In 2001, the idea was floated that a symphony hall could be built within the walls of the old brick warehouse. But visionary city leaders soon dreamed of something more glamorous. By 2007, the cornerstone was laid for the grand conception of a glass crown to be erected over the earthen base of bricks:

Yasuhisa Toyota of Japan was hired to handle the design and acoustics of the Great Hall. But there could be no guaranties. The development of of symphony hall is always a gamble:

 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Sep222017

John Cage - The Works for Percussion 4

John Cage The Works for Percussion 4 recital. Features percussionist Bonnie Whiting. Released 2017, disc has uncompressed 24-bit PCM stereo sound. Grade: Help!

We usually exclude opera or dance titles with only stereo sound. But we do make exceptions for classical music for soloists when the recording otherwise has some special merit. Here we have a famous (among lovers of contemporary music anyway) percussionist performing John Cage works. If you have seen this live or in the Blu-ray, please give us your opinion!

Here's a clip from this production from Mode Records:

Thursday
Sep212017

Beethoven Symphony No. 2 and Symphony No. 7

Seiji Ozawa conducts the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Beethoven Symphony No. 2 and Beethoven Symphony No. 7 at the Ozawa Matsumoto Festival. Symphony No. 2 was performed 2015 and directed for TV by Mari Inamasu. Symphony No. 7 was performed 2016 and directed for TV by Yo Asari. The Beethoven Choral Fantasy is a bonus extra with the Saito Kinen Orchestra, the Matsumoto Festival Chorus, Martha Argerich (piano), Lydia Teuscher and Rie Miyake (sopranos), Nathalie Stutzmann (alto), Kei Fukui and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenors), and Matthias Goerne (baritone). Only the 2 symphonies are reviewed here. Reviewed music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Released in 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+ blended grade. See below for grades for each symphony recording.

Readers of this website know about our relentless battle against the dread disease DVDitis. We were in part inspired to combat DVDitis by a series of wonderful symphony concerts recorded around 2008 mostly by Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Ochestra. These recordings were engineered by NHK (the Japanese National Broadcasting Company), and they demonstrate the high quality that can be achieved by shooting a symphony orchestra in a manner that takes full advantage of HD cameras.

Unfortunately, the recording industry did not follow the example set by Ozawa and NHK. Instead the industry continued to shoot symphony recordings as DVD titles. Then the DVD recordings were republished in Blu-ray format as an extra profit center. This practice was understandable, because at that time there were more customers for DVD than for Blu-ray discs. But now we have several hundred Blu-ray discs published in recent years by many recording firms that are obsolete and dead-on-arrival from DVDitis.

So as far as symphony recordings are concerned, we are now (September 2017) starting from scratch with little (other than the NHK recordings mentioned above) to be proud of. We take hope, however, from the fact that the market is finally shifting away from DVD to 2K and 4K HD displays. When this shift is recognized, the recording companies will start making (we hope and predict) modern symphony recordings.

Now back to the recordings on the subject disc. Were these recordings made from the beginning to take advantage of HD video? Or are they just more victims of DVDitis? Alas, we see that they are not as good as the NHK demo discs we admire so much. But they are steps in the right direction.

Symphony No. 2

Let's look first at Symphony No. 2 recorded in 2015. I'm not going fire my full Gatling gun of statistics today---for all the details, please consult my Symphony No. 2 Wonk Worksheet. For more background information on DVDitis, see our special article describing the dread disease. My opening screenshot is of my favorite musician of all time, the Saito Kinen blind first violinist, who is being helped up on the riser by a colleague. (If you know this gentleman's name, please let me know.)

The good HDVD of a symphony concert will have plenty of large-scale shots of the entire orchestra. Next below is a head-on shot that's pretty good. But the angle is a bit low and a couple of players are not shown on the left:

The next angle below is impressive. Everybody is on board, and you can see quite well where the different sections of the band are located. On the right are 8 violas, 6 cellos, and 3 basses. All the violins are massed on the left front, and it's pretty easy to spot all the winds. Believe it or not, in many DVD-style videos we have reviewed you will not find a single clip of this fine quality:

Part-orchestra shots like the next image below help us see better the various large sections:

And next below is one of many multi-section views. All told, there are 50 large-scale shots in this 34 minute recording, which is a goodly number that distinguishes this recording from the vast majority of Blu-ray symphony discs published so far:

There are also 82 clips of smaller forces. My favorite of these would be the four violas seen next below.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep202017

Ernani

Verdi Ernani opera to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Directed 2017 by Jean-Louis Grinda at the Opéra Monte-Carlo. Stars Ramón Vargas (Ernani), Ludovic Tézier (Don Carlo), Alexander Vinogradov (Don Ruy Gomez de Silva), Svetla Vassilieva (Elvira), Karine Ohanyan (Giovanna), Maurizio Pace (Don Riccardo), and Gabriele Ribis (Jago). Daniele Callegari conducts the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Monte-Carlo Opera Chorus (Chorus Master Stefano Visconti). Set design by Isabelle Partiot-Pieri; costumes by Teresa Acone; lights by Laurent Castaingt; film direction by Stéphan Aubé; produced by Frederic Allain (Wahoo). Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here's a YouTube clip:

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

Friday
Sep152017

Dvořák Requiem

Dvořák Requiem. In 2014 Philipe Herreweghe conducts the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and the Collegium Vocale Gent in a performance of Dvořák's Requiem.  Features soprano Ilse Eerens, alto Bernarda Fink, tenor Maximilian Schmitt, and bass Nathan Berg. Directed for video by Leonid Adamopoulos. Released 2017, disc has dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: B+

Herreweghe, the Collegium Vocale Gent, and Leonid Adamopoulos teamed up in 2012 to give us a warm, beautiful Bach Christmas Oratorio, that we graded B+, which is a good grade on this website. I'm happy to report that this Requiem is a breathtaking performance, extremely nuanced and professional on all counts, that Herreweghe leads with intensity and focus. The orchestral and choral sounds are ravishing, with the woodwinds coming through especially well.  I was also impressed by the strong soloists and the choir's balance. The conclusion of the Sanctus is especially thrilling.

Now to some screenshots. The video is very clear thanks in part to bright lighting in the concert hall. But the forces used for this performance are huge! You would probably need 4K resolution to get clear shots of all the performers in a single image. The image next below qualifies as a whole-orchestra shot; but at this range it's really hard to distinguish the various instruments:

The large forces on the stage doubtless contributed to the decision to shoot the video DVD style. But as you see below, there are at least a few large-scale, part-orchestras shots that help the viewer get properly oriented to where the sections of the orchestra are located:

And there are some nice section shots like we see next below --- first the cellos and then the second violins:

Here's a good view of most of the chorus:

And next below is a realistic view of the 4 soloists in their environment:

 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep122017

Lucia di Lammermoor

Donizetti Lucia di Lammermoor opera to libretto by Salvadore Cammarano. Directed 2016 by Katie Mitchell at the Royal Opera House. Stars Diana Damrau (Lucia), Charles Castronovo (Edgardo), Ludovic Tézier (Enrico), Taylor Stayton (Arturo), Kwangchul Youn (Raimondo), Rachael Lloyd (Alisa), and Peter Hoare (Normanno). Daniel Oren conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Ania Safonova). Designs by Vicki Mortimer; lighting design by Jon Clark; movement direction by Joseph Alford. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 Dobly Digital sound. Grade: Help!

This energetic update with emphasis on womens' rights got boos and applause. Preliminary info here needs confirmation and  completion. If you have seen this, please help us with a mini-review of this title!

Tuesday
Sep122017

Winterreise

Franz Schubert Winterreise concert recorded 2015 at the Festival d'Aix-de-Provence. Features bartione Matthias Goerne, pianist Markus Hinterhäuser, and visual artist William Kentridge. Also includes documentary, A Trio for Schubert, with interviews with all three featured artists. Video direction by Christian Leblé. Released 2017, disc has PCM stereo sound. Grade: Help!

We usually exclude opera or dance titles with only stereo sound. But we do make exceptions for classical music for soloists when the recording otherwise has some special merit. Here we have a famous tenor with piano accompaniment only,  the program is supported by unusual and original video art, and all this was offered live at the famous Aix-en-Provence summer festival. If you have seen this live or in the Blu-ray, please give us your opinion!

Here's a clip from this production showing the art of William Kentridge for "The Raven" from Part 2:


Monday
Sep112017

Midori Plays Bach

Midori Plays Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 1001-1006), recorded 2016 at the German Castle in Köthen (Anhalt) where Bach composed this cornerstone music. These are all the Bach sonatas and partitas for violin, called by famous violinist Georges Enescu "The Himalayas of violinists":

1. Sonata No. 1 in G minor BWV 1001
2. Partita No. 1 in B minor BWV 1002
3. Sonata No. 2 in A minor BWV 1003
4. Partita No. 2 in D minor BWV 1004
5. Sonata No. 3 in C major BWV 1005
6. Partita No. 3 in E major BWV 1006 

Directed for TV by Andreas Morell; produced by Paul Smaczny. It appears this was shot in 4K, but it's not clear if this Blu-ray package will be issued in 2K or 4K (or both) because we don't have yet the artwork for the back of the keepcase package. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Anhalt is where Bach composed many famous secular works including BWV 1001-1006, the Brandenburg concertos, and the Well-Tempered Clavier.

Information here is incomplete and needs confirmation and completion. Please help us by writing a comment if you know more about this title.

Monday
Sep112017

Tosca

Puccini Tosca opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2017 by Philipp Himmelmann at the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden. Stars Kristine Opolais Floria (Tosca), Marcelo Álvarez Mario (Cavaradossi), Marco Vratogna (Baron Scarpia), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Cesare Angelotti), Peter Rose (Il Sagrestano), Peter Tantsits (Spoletta), Douglas Williams (Sciarrone), and Walter Fink (Un carceriere). Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker, Philharmonia Chor Wien (Chorus Masters Walter Zeh and Anette Schneider), and Cantus Juvenum Karlsruhe. Set design by Raimund Bauer; costume design by Kathi Maurer. Executive Producer was Alexander Pereira. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Preliminary info here needs confirmation and  completion. If you have seen this, please help us with a mini-review of this title!

Monday
Sep112017

La Grande Danza

La Grande Danza: Aterballetto dance compilation. Triple bill of dances performed 2017 by the Aterballeto Dance Company at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. All performances directed for TV by Andreas Morell. The dances are as follows:

1. Words and Space. Choreography by Jiří Pokorny. Music by Georg Friedrich Händel. Sound design by Sawaki Yukari; costumes by Carolina Mancuso; sets and lighting by Carlo Cerri.

2. Narcissus. Choreography by Giuseppe Spota. Music by Joby Talbot. Costume design by Francesca Messori; sets and lighting by Carlo Cerri; on-stage video designs by OOOPStudio.

3. Phoenix. Choreography by Philippe Kratz. Music by Borderline Order. Costume design by Costanza Maramotti; sets and lighting by Carlo Cerri.

Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: Help!

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

Here is a short clip of Narcissus which shows some of OOOPStudio's projected video work:

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