Articles and Reviews

Here's news about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, and painting. 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. It's always been relatively easy to educate yourself about world literature, but hard and expensive to learn about the fine arts. But now with a decent TV, surround sound, and this website, you can at modest cost vastly expand what you know about the arts.

March 5. We just posted 6 stories on interesting new HDVDs to be released soon. We recently posted a review with screenshots of Flute Concerts at Sanssouci. This should have been an "A" title. But the video is afflicted by the dread disease HDCADD, and this knocks the grade down to a "C."

We recently posted a review, screenshots, and "B+" grade for The Twelve Cellists 40 Anniversary Concert. Becoming a member of the cello section of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra means you are committing to a double life that is unique in classical music. Learn about it in this unusual HDVD.

We recently posted a revised review, "A+" grade,  and screenshots of the excellent NHK recording of the Mendelssohn Piano Concreto No. 1 and the Mendelssohn Midsummer Night's Dream music. We recently posted an updated review and screenshots of the "A+" operetta Die Fledermaus. The Poulenc Dialogues des carmélites is the most successful modern opera.  We have 3 HDVDs of this now, and we recently put up reviews about all of them, which you can find here.  

We have the most complete and best reviews anywhere of ballet and dance HDVDs. So we posted a "hit-parade" story with our top picks. We just added the new The Winter's Tale to the list of best modern ballet and dance titles.



Le Corsaire

Le Corsaire ballet. Libretto Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier, in a verison by Anna-Marie Holmes. Choreography and staged by Anna-Marie Holmes (after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev). Performed 2014 at the English National Ballet. Original music composed by Adolphe Adam an numerous other composurs edited by Lars Payne and Gavin Sutherland. Stars Alina Cojocaru (Medora),  Vadim Muntagirov (Conrad), Erina Takahashi (Gulnare), Dimitri Gruzdyev (Lankendem), Junor Souza (Ali), Yonah Acosta (Birbanto), Michael Coleman (Pasha), Juan Rodriguez (Pasha Assistant), and Nancy Osbaldeston (Lead Villager). Gavin Sutherland directs the Orchestra of English National Ballet. Sets and costumes by Bob Ringwood; lighting by Neil Austin; directed for the screen by Chris Blaine for Charlie Productions.  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.


The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Shakespeare The Two Gentlemen of Verona play. Directed 2014 by Simon Godwin at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stars Mark Arends (Proteus), Elliot Barnes-Worrell (Outlaw), Martin Bassindale (Speed), Pearl Chanda (Julia), Nicholas Gerard-Martin (Turio), Robert Gilbert (Outlaw), Jonny Glynn (Duke of Milan), Molly Gromadzki (Host/Outlaw), Youssef Kerkour (Sir Eglamour), Sarah MacRae (Silvia), Michael Marcus (Valentine), Roger Morlidge (Launce), Keith Osborn (Antonio),  Leigh Quinn (Lucetta/Outlaw), Simon Yadoo (Panthino/Outlaw), and Mossup (Crab)[Mossup, a dog, plays the role of Crab, Launce's pet, a dog]. Design by Paul Wills; lighting by Bruno Poet; music by Michael Bruce; sound by Christopher Shutt; movement by Jonathan Goddard; 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.


Experimentum Mundi

Giorgio Battistelli Experimentum Mundi opera (composed 1981). Staged and directed 2013 by the composer himself at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. Percussion by Nicola Raffone; voce recitante or narration by Peppe Servillo. Star performers and "accidental musicians" include bricklayers, cobblers, blacksmiths, stonemasons,  barrel-builders, and pasta makers from the composer's home town of Albano Loziale.  Grade: Help!

The word "opera" means "works." So the term "experimental opera" refers both to Battistelli's composition and to the real-world crafts that are celebrated in the piece.

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


Shostakovich Complete Symphonies and Concertos

Shostakovich Complete Symphonies and Concertos box set. Recorded 2013 and 2014 at the Salle Pleyel, Paris. Valery Gergiev conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre. The following is a complete list of the works and the soloists who appear:

Blu-ray 1

  • Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10
  • Symphony No. 2 in B major, “To October”, for orchestra with mixed chorus, Op. 14
  • Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43
  • Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70
  • Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141
  • Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra and Trumpet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35 / Daniil Trifonov (piano), Timur Martynov (trumpet)
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in F major, Op. 102 / Denis Matsuev (piano)

Blu-ray 2

  • Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, “The First of May”, for orchestra with mixed chorus, Op. 20
  • Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54
  • Symphony No. 10 in E minor, op. 93
  • Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, “Babi Yar”, for bass, bass chorus and orchestra, Op. 113 / Mikhail Petrenko (bass), Male Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre
  • Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 107 / Gautier Capuçon (violoncello)
  • Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra No. 2 in G major, Op. 126 / Mario Brunello (violoncello)

Blu-ray 3

  • Symphony No. 7 in C major, “Leningrad”, Op. 60
  • Symphony No. 11 in G minor, “The Year 1905”, Op. 103
  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77 (originally published as Op. 99) / Vadim Repin (violin)
  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 129 / Alena Baeva (violin)

Blu-ray 4

  • Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47
  • Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65
  • Symphony No. 12 in D minor, “The Year 1917”, Op. 112
  • Symphony No. 14, for soprano, bass and chamber orchestra, Op. 135 / Veronika Dzhioeva (soprano), Mikhail Petrenko (bass)
  • Special Feature Dmitri Shostakovich – A Man of Many Faces. Documentary film by Reiner Moritz (2015)

This set has introductions to compositions by Gergiev. And for those who don't want to listen to Gergiev, there is a "Play Music Only Function" that gives you just the music. Directed for TV by Don Kent. Released 2015, set has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

A huge amount of work went into this monumental box. Gergiev and the Mariinksy Orchestra have the potential to play this music as well as anyone in the world. We see no indication what sound-sampling specs were used to record this, so it was probably done at 48-kHz/24-bit. This is not state-of-the-art, but can produce fine results when coupled with the lossless sound output provided.

The rub will be whether the video is good. This set is also being published in DVD, which raises the very real possibility that the whole thing in Blu-ray may be infected with DVDitis. We already have an HDVD from Gergiev and the Mariinksy Orchestra of three Tchaikovsky symphonies made at the Pleyel. The video on that set (from Andy Sommer) was so bad we gave it an "F" grade.

Don Kent is the videographer for this Shostakovich set, but Kent has no Blu-ray recording to his credit so far of symphony music. (Kent has had spectacular success with his recent opera recordings such as The Fairy Queen  and Hippolyte and Aricice.) We just watched a PR video on MDT for this set. The PQ looked great. But, alas, we saw a lot of symptoms of DVDitis including short clips with a fast pace, small groups of players in the big band, instrument only shots, shots of Gergiev made over the backs of musicians, and that spy-cam they have at the Pleyel. Of course, we can't form an opinion based on a PR video, but what we saw was not encouraging.

This will be an expensive set. For lack of decent video, we fear it may be in its Blu-ray form an obsolete dodo on the day it's released. Well, if the video  is ruined by DVDitis, you can turn off the picture and just listen.

If you have seen any of the selections in this box and understand our loathing of DVDitis, we would love to hear from you. Or, please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.



Aribert Reimann Lear opera (composed 1978) to a libretto by Claus H. Henneberg. Directed 2014 by Karoline Gruber at the Staatsoper Hamburg. Stars Bo Skovhus (König or King Lear), Katja Pieweck (Goneril), Hellen Kwon (Regan), Siobhan Stagg (Cordelia), Erwin Leder (Narr or Fool), Lauri Vasar (Graf or Count von Gloster), Martin Homrich (Edmund), Christian Miedl (Herzog or Duke von Albany), Peter Galliard (Herzog or Duke von Cornwall), Jürgen Sacher (Graf or Duke von Kent), Wilhelm Schwinghammer (König von Frankreich), and Frieder Stricker (Bedienter or Servant). Simone Young conducts the Philharmoniker Hamburg and Chor der Staatsoper Hamburg (Chorus Master Eberhard Friedrich). Set Design by Roy Spahn; costume design by Mechthild Seipel; lighting design by Hans Toelstede; directed for video by Marcus Richardt. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 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.


Anna Bolena

Donizetti Anna Bolena opera to a libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2013 by Cesare Scarton in Rieti, Italy. Stars Federico Benetti (Enrico VIII, King of England), Marta Torbidoni (Anna Bolena, his wife), Laura Polverelli (Giovanna or Jane Seymour, Anna’s lady-in-waiting), Dionisos Tsantinis (Lord Rochefort, Anna’s brother), Moisés Marín García (Lord Percy), Martina Belli (Smeton, musician), and Carlo Allemano (Sir Hervey, court official). Fabio Biondi conducts the Europa Galante (period-instrument chamber orchestra) and the Belcanto Chorus (Chorus Master Martino Faggiani). Set design by Michele Della Cioppa; costume design by Anna Biagiotti; light design by Corrado Rea. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: Help!

Anna Bolena is usually presented as an elaborate historical piece set in England in 1536: we have a good HDVD example of this staring Anna Netrebko complete with the crushing late scene where the 3-year-old future Queen Elisabeth I toddles on the screen to kiss her mother goodbye just before her mother is murdered by her father. Fabio Biondi, who founded and directs the small-scale Europe Galante orchestra, apparently had the idea of paring back everything in Anna Bolena and setting it 300 years later in the time Donizetti wrote it (about 1830). And Biondi's doing this with all-Italian forces in the tiny town of Rieti about 40 miles from Rome. It's fitting then that Dynamic would publish this. Dynamic has a huge vault of Italian operas in DVDs, but most of them don't have the production values needed to survive in the HD entertainment era. You keep reading about how Italian opera is collapsing---maybe Biondi and Dynamic can show a way forward for the Italians. (And I wonder if they will have Elizabeth appear at the end.)

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


Flute Concertos at Sanssouci

Flute Concertos at Sanssouci: A Tribute to Frederick the Great. This is a concert film celebrating the 300th birthday of Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia.  Emmanuel Pahud (principal chair of the Berliner Philharmoniker) is the flautist. Trevor Pinnock plays harpsichord and conducts the Kammerakademie Potsdam at the Royal Theater of the Neues Palais, Schloss Sanssouci, Potsdam.

The program:

1. Frederick the Great - Flute Concerto No. 3 in C major.

2. Johann Joachim Quantz - Capriccio in G major; Capriccio in B major; Flute Concerto in G major; and Preludio in D major.

3. Franz Benda - Flute Concerto in E minor.

4. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - Flute Sonata in A minor.

Video direction by Beatrix Conrad. Released 2012, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C

Frederick the Great ("der alte Fritz" or "old Fritz" ) was the extraordinarily successful King of Prussia from from 1740 to 1776. Among many other talents, he was a military genius and a flautist who composed hundreds of pieces of music for his instrument. His official court was in Berlin; he built the Sanssouci palace and gardens in nearby Potsdam for his summer vacation home:

The sun symbol seen here is at a garden gate:

And we also see the sun symbol in the small theater at Sanssouci. Der alte Fritz retained C.P.E. Bach, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Franz Benda (among others) as court musicians, and subject title has music by all of them as well as by Fritz himself. So much or all of the music we encounter on this recording was likely first performed in this very venue. In the screen shot below we see Emmanuel Pahud and members of the Kammerakademie Potsdam performing a flute concerto.  Behind them is a brightly illuminated image of the seating space in a theater. This is just background art, but it is in fact a picture of the auditorium that the performers now face:

And here is a picture of the auditorium full of concertgoers sitting beneath the sun symbol:

In one of the better seats we find old Fritz enjoying the music while wearing his big hat to the irritation of the spectator behind him:


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