Articles and Reviews

Here's news about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, painting, and sculpture. We call these recordings "HDVDs." In the journal below are independent (and hard-to-find critical) reports on hundreds of HDVDs. Learn what's available. Pick the titles that suit you best for your personal excelsisphere. 

January 25. Before you eat the grain, you have to get rid of the chaff. We have now "excluded" more than 100 Blu-ray fine-arts titles for "legacy" quality, many with 4:3 picture and stereo sound only. Our chaff list used to be at the bottom of the Alphalist, but now we have it to "Excluded Titles" on the Navigation bar. This helps you focus on only the best new titles that in fact benefit from the high-definition TV.

We just posted a "B-" grade and a review of the Accentus Lucerne Festival 2013 Opening Concert---the one where the dying Abbado conducts his own funeral march from the Beethoven Symphony No. 3. This title is getting good buzz from print critics, but we are more sceptical.

We recently posted a review and "C+" grade for a Bruckner Symphony No. 6 performed by the Berlin Staatskapelle under Barenboim. The performance was admirable, but the disc suffers from near-terminal DVDitis and weak sound recording. A zarzuela is a Spanish opera-like show. We recently posted a review and "A" grade for the delightful zarzuela Luisa Fernanda. And we grouped with it Amor, vida de mi vida, a great program of songs mostly from zarzuelas.

We have  reviewed every ballet/dance HDVD title you can buy today (Opus Arte Beauty and the Beast and The Winter's Tale on the way now). We have the best reviews anywhere of ballet and dance HDVDs. So we recently posted a "hit-parade" story with our top picks. ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Saturday
Jan242015

Bartók Concerto for Orchestra

2003 Europakonzert: Pierre Boulez conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2003 in its traditional "Europakonzert" on May 1, celebrating the founding of the orchestra on May Day. Normally, this event occurs in a different European city in a beautiful venue of historical significance. This year's performance was at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon. Here's the program:

1. Bartók Concert for Orchestra

2. Debussy Trois Nocturnes: Fêtes

3. Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20

4. Ravel Le Tombeau de Couperin

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.

Saturday
Jan242015

Dance!

Dance! ballet box set. The box includes three titles described in more detail on this site:

1. Chaplin, graded "B+", would please most modern dance fans. 

2. Poppea//Poppea in 3D, graded "D+", was an interesting production, but its video quality might be the worst I've seen for a dance title.

3. The Great Mass, graded "C", might be accurately called "The Great Mess."

The blended grade for these three titles would be "C+", which is consistent with the drab artwork EuroArts has provided for the box. At the moment (late January 2015) the price on MDT Recordings for this suggests that Euroarts is offering this "3 for the price of 2."  You be the judge.

Saturday
Jan242015

Les vêpres siciliennes

Giuseppe Verdi Les vêpres siciliennes opera to libretto by Charles Duveyrier and Eugène Scribe. Directed 2013 by Stefan Herheim at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Stars Lianna Haroutounian (Hélène), Bryan Hymel (Henri), Michael Volle (Guy de Montfort), Erwin Shrott (Jean Procida), Neal Cooper (Thibault), Jihoon Kim (Robert), Jean Teitgen (Le Sire de Béthune), Jeremy White (Le Comte de Vaudemont), Nicholas Darmanin (Daniéli), Michelle Daly (Ninetta), and Jung Soo Yun (Mainfroid). Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Vasko Vassilev) and Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director Renato Balsadonna). Dramaturgy by Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach; set designs by Philipp Fürhofer; costume designs by Gesine Völlm; lighting design by Anders Poll; choreography by André de Jong; directed for the screen by Rhodri Huw. Released 2015, 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.

Friday
Jan232015

Beethoven Symphony No. 3

The Beethoven Symphony No. 3 concert includes:

1. Brahms Tragic Overture

2. Schoenberg Interlude and Song of the Wood Dove from Gurre-Lieder (with alto Mihoko Fujimura)

3. Beethoven Symphony No. 3, the "Sinfonia Eroica" or "Heroic Symphony"

Claudio Abbado conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in opening the summer festival in 2013. Directed for TV by Uti Feudel; produced by Paul Smaczny. Released 2014, disc has dts-HD Master Audio sound.  Grade: B-

At first glance, this might appear to be an overly somber and rather short program.  But Abbado had been sick for a long time, and he died about four months later. Everyone understood that Abbado selected the music in this program to be his swan song.

As you can see from the first four screenshots below, the picture quality of the video is excellent with fine resolution, pleasant and rich color balance, and no motion artifacts.

There were few empty seats:

Abbado valiantly smiled and greeted everyone as warmly as his devastated frame allowed. But he basically appeared as a living death-mask, and some of the images reveal the pain he suffered doing this:

The audience was loaded with celebrities such as Pierre Boulez seen below. The video captures the emotions of the event. But our task now is to determine how well this recording honors the deceased:

The program opens with the Brahms Tragic Overture. The performance by the famous Lucerne Festival Orchestra under their beloved leader is, of course,  exemplary. The sound quality (recorded it seems at 48kHz/16-bit) is typical for the symphony Blu-rays we are getting these days with a pleasant blending of the instruments and sections, decent dynamic range, and good renditions of the pizzicato passages, etc. But the Tragic Overture sounded familiar. I reached for my Blu-ray of the Brahms Symphony No. 2 played by the Saito Kinen orchestra under Seiji Osawa, which was recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Sure enough, the First Movement of Symphony No. 2 is quite similar the the Tragic Overture. But the sound recording of the Symphony No. 2 by NHK is distinctly superior to the recording of the Tragic Overture. In the recording of the symphony I don't hear blending---I hear separate instruments and sections playing in various ensembles as the score progresses. It's a much closer approximation to "being there" than I get listening to the Lucerne Festival orchestra. At the moment, I can't think of any better demonstration of the advantages afforded by using 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling in recording a symphony. The superior Saito Kinen recording was made in 2009. You would think that the rest of the recording industry could catch up with NHK in the 4 years between 2009 and 2013, but this had not happened and has still not happened.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jan132015

Henry IV Parts I & II

Shakespeare Henry IV Parts I & II plays. Directed 2014 by Gregory Doran at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This is a combo pack containing two plays that are available individually: Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II. See our stories on the individual title for more details. Grade: Help!

Shakespeare wrote 4 plays (called the Henriad) about the long and deadly struggles among the descendants of Edward III for the English throne; Richard II; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V. We already have a splendid HDVD from the Royal Shakespearte Company of Richard II. Now we get both parts of Henry IV with continuity of characters and actors and a quantity discount. But here's the best thing: for the first time, your HDVD comes with a poster!

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

Tuesday
Jan132015

Henry IV Part II

Shakespeare Henry IV Part II play. Directed 2014 by Gregory Doran at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stars Elliot Barnes-Worrell (Prince John), Marin Bassindale (Snare/Peto/Duke of Clarence), Jasper Britton (King Henry IV), Antony Byrne (Rumour/Porter/Pistol), Sean Chapman (Earl of Northumberland), Paola Dionisotti (Mistress Quickly), Oliver Ford Davies (Justice Shallow), Nicholas Gerard-Martin (Lord Hastings/Feeble/Davy), Robert Gilbert (Travers/Sir John Coleville), Jonny Glynn (Morton/Earl of Warwick/Shadow), Nia Gwynne (Doll Tearsheet/Lady Northumberland), Alex Hassell (Prince Hal), Jim Hooper (Justice Silence/Gower), Yousseff Kerkour (Earl of Westmoreland/Fang/Bullcalf), Jennifer Kirby (Lady Percy), Sam Marks (Ned Poins), Keith Osborn (Archbishop of York), Leigh Quinn (Wart/Duke of Gloucester), Joshua Richards (Bardolph), Luca Saraceni-Gunner (Falstaff's Page), Antony Sher (Sir John Falstaff), Simon Thorp (Lord Chief Justice), Trevor White (Lord Mowbray), and Simon Yadoo (Lord Randolph/Mouldy/Beadle). Designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis; lighting by Tim Mitchell; music by Paul Englishby; sound by Martin Slavin; movement by Michael Ashcroft; fights by Terry King; screen director was Robin Lough; screen producer was John Wyver. Released 2015,  disc has 5.1 dts Master Audio. Grade: Help!

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

Tuesday
Jan132015

Henry IV Part I

Shakespeare Henry IV Part I play. Directed 2014 by Gregory Doran at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stars Elliot Barnes-Worrell (Prince John/Francis), Marin Bassindale (Peto), Jasper Britton (King Henry IV), Antony Byrne (Earl of Worcester), Sean Chapman (Earl of Northumberland/Earl of Douglas), Paola Dionisotti (Mistress Quickly), Nicholas Gerard-Martin (Carrier/Sir Michael), Robert Gilbert (Lord Edmund Mortimer/Carrier), Jonny Glynn (Rakehell), Nia Gwynne (Lady Mortimer), Alex Hassell (Prince Hal), Jim Hooper (Sir Richard Vernon), Yousseff Kerkour (Earl of Westmoreland/Ostler), Jennifer Kirby (Lady Percy), Sam Marks (Ned Poins), Keith Osborn (Archbishop of York/Sheriff), Leigh Quinn (Traveller), Joshua Richards (Bardolph/Owen Glendower), Antony Sher (Sir John Falstaff), Simon Thorp (Sir Walter Blunt/Lord Chief Justice), Trevor White (Hotspur), and Simon Yadoo (Chamberlain/Vinter). Designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis; lighting by Tim Mitchell; music by Paul Englishby; sound by Martin Slavin; movement by Michael Ashcroft; fights by Terry King; screen director was Robin Lough; screen producer was John Wyver. Released 2015, this disc has 5.1 dts Master Audio. Grade: Help!

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

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