Here's news about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, and painting. 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.

Sept. 18. The last review I did was on July 25. After that the flood of new titles began as the vendors try to get product out to be ordered as winter holiday presents. Since then I've posted 34 new titles, and there are more to come. I've also excluded several new impostors that don't meet our standards.

It seems Arthaus has a new budget label called "Elegance." The Elegance discs were all in the Arthaus catalog earlier, but have been reissued with a reduced price and new artwork. Some of them were, and still are, impostors. But here are 4 good to great HDVDs you can now buy cheaper: La Petite Danseuse de Degas, Siddharta, Raymonda, and Don Quichot.

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Friday
Sep162016

El Público

Mauricio Sotelo El Público (The Audience) opera to a libreto by Andrès Albáñez based on a play by Fredrico García Lorca. Directed 2015 by Robert Castro. Stars José Antonio Lópes (Director (Enrique) / Vine Leaves Figure), Thomas Tatzl (First Man (Gonzalo)) / Bells Figure / Red Nude), Arcángel [sic](First Horse), Jesús Méndez (Second Horse), Rubén Olmo (Third Horse), Josep Miquel Ramón (Second Man / First White Horse / Centurion), Antonio Lozano (Third Man / Black Horse / Idiot Shepherd), Gun-Brit Barkmin (Helen / Lady), Erin Caves (Emperor / Magician), Isabella Gaudí (Juliet /Boy), José San Antonio (Manservant / Male Nurse), Harold Torres & Antonio Magno (Two Students), Haizam Fathy (Pierrot Costume and Shadow), Leonardo Tremaschi (Ballerina Costume and Shadow), Carlos Rodas (Pajamas Costume and Shadow), and Daniel Kone & Samuel Echardour (Two Elves). Pablo Heras-Canado conducts the Klangforum Wien and the Coro Titular of the Teatro Real (Andrés Máspero Chorus Master). Special instrumental guests are guitar soloist Cañizares and percussionist Agustín Daissera. Sets by Alexander Polzin; costumes by Wojciech Dziedzic; lighting by Urs Schönebaum; choreography by Darrol Grand Moustrie. Directed for TV by Jérémie Cuvillier; produced by François Duplat and Xavier Dubois. Relieased 2016, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Lorca, perhaps Spain's most celebrated 20th century poet and dramatist, was from wealthy, conservative roots, but he was also gay. So he fell in the Spanish avant-garde and surrealists who gave him a platform to criticise bourgeois conventions. In 1936 he was murdered, it seems, by a Falangist death squad. Although folks are still looking, his remains have not been found. He wrote in 1930 a stage play called El Público. When Lorca died, there were two unpublished manuscripts of El Público known to exist. They went missing during the Spanish Civil War; although folks are still looking, they have not been found. But an earlier draft of most of the play did turn up.

Wildly symbolic and surreal, the play has seldom been produced. Doing El Público remains, I surmise, the ultimate unattainable dream for Spanish stage directors. So it was probably not a surprise when Gerard Mortier scheduled El Público in opera form, which turned out to be his last major decision as artistic director in Madrid.   Mortier was, of course, the "visionary opera company leader whose bold theatricality and updating of the canon helped define the art form’s modern history" (

Friday
Sep162016

Rhapsody and The Two Pigeons

Ashton Rhapsody and The Two Pigeons ballets. Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae star in the Rhapsody (to Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini) along with six men and six women. The Two Pigeons is danced by Lauren Cuthbertson, Vadim Muntagirov, Laura Morera, and Ryoichi Hirano to music by André Messager. Barry Wordsworth conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Directed for TV by Ross MacGibbon. Released 2016, 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.

Thursday
Sep152016

Beethoven Piano Sonatas 1-32 

Beethoven Piano Sonatas 1-32 (complete) played by Rudolf Buchbinder in the Mozarteum Großer Saal at the 2014 Salzburg Festival. In the Alphalist I gave this box the name "Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 1-3 so it would appear in the best place. The correct C Major title is Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas. All 32 sonata recordings have been packaged previous by C Major in three separate releases called Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3. In other words, it appears this complete box just sells you the same three discs that were previous published in in separate packages. Grade: D+

This is the last in a series of 4 separate titles in which Buchbinder plays all the Beethoven piano sonatas. See my detailed reviewed of Vol. 1 which was published earlier. Because the 32 sonatas were recorded in 32 separate "chapters" and appear in what appears to be random order over the 3 volumes, I would assume that the sonatas presented in Vol. 1 are represetative of the whole series or are, perhaps, the best recordings of all of them.  Because of the many deficiencies noted in Vol. 1, I graded it D+. Since Vol. 1 is probably representative, I gave the same D+ to Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 as a tentative grade. Now that all the sonatas are published in this box of three discs, it follows that I should give this box a D+ grade also.

The grade of D+ here mean, "Don't buy this unless you have a real good reason." If you are a piano professional who plays the Beethoven sonatas, you might well benefit from observing the fine points of Buchbinder's playing. If you are just a typical amateur music lover, this box might be a good choice if it is cheap enough. C Major was asking about $40 for each of the separate volumes, but I think the real price out there has reached  close to 1/2 of list. Early indications are that the asking price for the complete set in Blu-ray might be, say $65. That gets you close to the price for modern sets of this music on CD. So if the street price falls from that, you can't get hurt. If you don't like the sorry video, just turn it off.

Thursday
Sep152016

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique performed 2016 by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Daniele Gatti at the Concertgebouw. Concert also includes Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture (Dresden version) and the Liszt Orpheus (Symphonic Poem No. 4). Music recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Video was recorded at 1080p24, which is unusual as most video these days are recorded at 30 frames per second. (You may need to fiddle with equipment settings to get the 24 fps to play nice.) Released 2016, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

The recording arm of the Royal Concertgebouw operation is called RCO Live. It appears they have been pretty successful with CDs and other audio formats. But their video publication record is poor due to cutting corners and serious problems with DVDitis.  Their Mahler Symphonies 1-10 box was a huge failure that got a D grade from us. Somewhat better was their Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 box that is graded B- here.

This new video of Symphony fantastique is not generous. RCO management is still stuck in the LP/CD rut while offering 85 minutes of music on a disc that can play for 4 hours.  Well, if you want to charge $35 for one symphony, the content must be state-of-the-art in every respect. RCO has come through with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling, which is encouraging.

But I note that this title is also available in DVD, which is discouraging. If the video content on the Blu-ray is the same as that of the DVD, then the Blu-ray version is automatically rendered obsolete as it falls short of today's state-of-the-art in making HD recordings of symphony concerts. (I did see a short video clip from this recording that prepares me to be disappointed.)

If you have this Blu-ray recording, I ask you to consult our Work Worksheet and Wonk Worksheet Instructions. Then I ask you to play this Symphony fantastique while assigning each video clip to the categories on the Wonk Worksheet. This will take some work. But if you do this work and let us publish it, you will instantly become an elite fine-arts critic. That's because the Wonk Worksheet is the only technique ever devised for art criticism that has objective standards that can be peer-reviewed.  Have you got the guts to be a Wonk?

 

Tuesday
Sep132016

Czech Night

The Berliner Philharmoniker Czech Night concert has the following pieces:
1. Bedrich Smetana: "Vltava" from Má Vlast ("River Moldau" from My Country)
2. Dvořák Violin Concerto in A minor
3. Dvořák Symphony No. 6
4. Dvořák "Slavonic Dance No.8"
5. Paul Lincke "Berliner Luft"

Since 1983, the Berliner Philharmoniker has each year given a summer concert at the Waldbühne (Forest Stage) located in a popular Berlin park. The crowd dresses informally, but the musical fare is more formal than a pops concert. In 2016, the guest conductor was Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the violin concerto was performed by Lisa Batiashvili. Directed for TV by Henning Kasten. Released 2016, 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.

Sunday
Sep112016

Semyon Kotko

Prokofiev Semyon Kotko opera to a libretto by Prokofiev and Valentin Katayev. Directed 2013 by Yuri Alexandrov at Mariinsky II in Saint Petersburg. Stars Viktor Lutsyuk (Semyon Kotko), Lyubov Sokolova (Semyon's mother), Varvara Solovyova (Frosya), Evgeny Nikitin (Remeniuk), Gennady Bezzubenkov (Tkachenko), Tatiana Pavlovskaya (Sofya), Nadezhda Vassilieva (Khivrya), Roman Burdenko (Tsaryov), Olga Sergeeva (Lyubka), Grigory Karasev (Ivasenko), Stanislav Leontyev (Mikola), and Anbri Popov (Klembovsky). Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. Sets by Semyon Pastukh; costumes by Galina Solovieva; lighting by Gleb Filshtinsky. Directed for TV by Anna Matison. Package has both (1) a DVD disc and (2) a Blu-ray disc with 48kHz/24-bit sound presented in 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

According to Operabase, Russia has the third largest opera market in the world (after Germany and the USA). In a recent year, Moscow had the most operas of any city anywhere and Saint Petersburg was #4. There are many worthly Russian operas that Westerners know little or nothing about. Semyon Kotko is a rare item because it's a Stalin-era propaganda opera that maybe is good enough to have a life of its own (one of several operas Prokofiev wrote before being allowed to leave Russia). I don't usually do this, but here's a synopsis quoted from Wikipedia:

The newly established Bolshevik government has reached peace with the Germans, but some of their forces still occupy the territory. The advancing Red Army is hampered by Ukrainian nationalists and the remaining Germans. Semyon, a demobilized soldier and prominent young man in his village, is hoping to marry Sofya, daughter of the wealthy Tkachenko. The latter hopes to restore the old order and plots with loyalist elements and Germans to undermine the revolution and to thwart Semyon's marital intentions. In the end, Semyon, after Tkachenko's intrigues have cost the lives of two friends, is reunited with Sofya, and Tkachenko is arrested and executed leaving behind the merry chorus of the Red Army.

The videographer Anna Matison is a new-comer to us (also did The Left-Hander). She's a young polymath who happens to be a knock-out. I know this is unprofessional, but I couldn't resist showing you a picture of Matison:

Fine-arts videos coming out of Russia tend to be expensive and vary a lot in quality. Let's hope these latest offerings on the Mariinsky label are ready to meet their market. If you have seen this or The Left-Hander, we would surely like to get an opinion from you.

Friday
Sep092016

Beethoven Symphony No. 9

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 concert. Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Gewandhausorchester, the MDR Rundfunkchor, the GewandhausChor and the GewandhausKinderchor.  Soloists are Simona Šaturová (soprano), Mihoko Fujimura (alto), Christian Elsner (tenor), Christian Gehaher (baritone). Produced by Paul Smaczny and Steffel Keitel. Directed for TV by Ute Feudel. Released in 2016, 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
Sep092016

La Traviata (Peretyatko)

Verdi Traviata opera to libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Directed 2015 by Rolando Villazón at the Baden-Baden Festpielhaus. Stars Olga Peretyatko (Violetta Valéry), Atalla Ayan (Alfredo Germont), Simone Piazzola (Giorgio Germont), Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (Gastone, Vicomte de Létorières), Tom Fox (Baron Douphoi), Christina Daletska (Flora Bervoix), Konstantin Wolff (Marchese d'Obigny), Walter Fink (Dr. Grenvil), Deniz Uzun (Annina), Raimonds Spogis (Flora's Servant), Stefan Geyer (Commissioner), and Hermann Oswald (Giuseppe). Pablo Heras-Casado conducts the Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble and the Balthasar-Neumann-Chor (Chorus Master Detlef Bratschke). Sets by Johannes Leiacker; costumes by Thibault Vancraenenbroeck; lighting by Davy Cunningham; choreography by Philippe Giraudeau; directed for video by Nele Münchmeyer. Released 2016, 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
Sep092016

Aida

Giuseppe Verdi Aida opera to libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. Directed 2015 by William Friedkin at the Teatro Regio Torino. Stars Kristin Lewis (Aida), Anita Rachvelishvili (Amneris), Marco Berti (Radamès), Mark S. Doss (Amonasro), Giacomo Prestia (Ramfis), In-Sung Sin (Il Re (the King)), Dario Prola (Messenger), and Kate Fruchterman (The High Priestess). Gianandrea Noseda conducts the Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Regio Torino (Chorus Master Claudio Fenoglio). Set and costume design by Carlo Diappi; lighting design by Andrea Anfossi; choreography by Marc Ribaud as revived by Anna Maria Bruzzese; video direction by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2016, 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
Sep092016

Tchaikovsky Bolshoi Ballets

Tchaikovsky Bolshoi Ballets box set released 2016. Below are the discs. Each of them has already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Swan Lake. 2015. (Grade: D+)

2. The Sleeping Beauty. 2012. (Grade: A+)

3. The Nutcracker. 2011. (Grade: F)

This might be the worst HDVD box set on the market now. The A+ Sleeping Beauty is one of the best HDVDs ever, and any ballet fan has to have it. But you would surely have something better to do with your time than to watch the remaining two titles, especially when we have so many other wonderful choices for both Swan Lake and the Nutcracker.

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