Titles by Category

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

Feb 11.  Finally we have a good grade (A-) to brag about for the new Don Quixote from the Vienna State Ballet.  Recently we posted a F+ grade for the new C Major Bruckner Symphony 3 and an F- grade for that C Major Mahler S1-10 Box performed by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. How can a major publishing house turn out something that gets an F-?

We recently posted more than you wanted to know about that Brahms Cycle Box from Belvedere. Now you can buy the 3 discs in the box independently. We bunched the 4 different deals together near the top of the Journal.

We just updated our manifesto about the best ballet and dance videos.

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Monday
Feb122018

Le Coq d’Or

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Le coq d’or opera to a libretto by Vladimir Belsky. Directed 2016 by Laurent Pelly at la Monnaie, Brussels. Stars Pavlo Hunka (Tzar Dodon), Alexey Dolgov (Tzarevich Guidon), Konstantin Shushakov (Tzarevich Afron), Alexander Vassiliev (General Polkan), Agnes Zwierko (Amelfa), Alexander Kravets (Astrologer), Venera Gimadieva (Tzaritza of Shemakha), and Sheva Tehoval (Little Golden Cockerel). Alain Altinoglu conducts La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and La Monnaie Chorus Academy led by Benoît Giaux (Chorus Master Martino Faggiani). Set design by Barbara de Limburg; costume design by Laurent Pelly; collaboration costumes by Jean-Jacques Delmotte; lighting by Joël Adam; choreography by Lionel Hoche. Released in 2018. Grade: Help!

Here is an official clip from La Monnaie:

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

Monday
Feb122018

Barenboim at the Proms

Barenboim at the Proms concert. Daniel Barenboim conducts the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the BBC Proms in 2016. Features pianist Martha Argerich. Released 2018, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here is the bill for the concert:

1. Jörg Widmann Con Brio
2. Franz Liszt Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat major
3. Franz Schubert Rondo in A major D951
4. Richard Wagner Overture to Tannhäuser
5. Richard Wagner "Dawn", "Siegfried’s Rhine Journey" and "Funeral March" from Götterdämmerung
6. Richard Wagner Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
7. Richard Wagner Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Act III
8. Richard Wagner Prelude to Lohengrin, Act III

Here is an official clip from EuroArts:

Please help us with a review of this title!

Sunday
Feb112018

Don Quixote

Don Quixote ballet. Music by Ludwig Minkus arranged by John Lanchbery. Choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa. Staged 2016 by Manuel Legris at the Wiener Staatsballett. Stars Maria Yakovleva (Kitri/Dulcinea), Denys Cherevychko (Basilio), Ketevan Papava (A Street Dancer), Roman Lazik (Espada), Olga Esina (The Queen of the Dryads), Kiyoka Hashimoto (Amor), Kamil Pavelka (Don Quixtoe), Christoph Wenzel (Sancho Panza), Gabor Oberregger (Lorenzo), Andrey Kaydanovskiy (Gamache), Alice Firenze, Nina Tonoli (Kitri's friends), Igor Milos, Beata Wiedner (Two aged Gypsies), Mihail Sosnovschi, Rebecca Horner, Erika Kováčová (Gypsies), Gala Jovanovic, Oxana Kiyanenko, and Laura Nistor (Three Dryads), Natascha Mair (First Bridesmaid), plus Marat Bavletshin and Keata Wiedner (Caregivers).  Kevin Rhodes conducts the Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper. Set and costume design by Nicholas Georgiadis; lighting design by Marc Anrochte; video directed by Michael Beyer. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

In January, 2018 Rob Maynard wrote an excellent review of this title for www.musicweb-international.com with detailed information about the Nureyev version of the Don Quixote ballet. He concludes that subject title Blu-ray is the best video available of the Nureyev show. We agree and go a step further by calling it the best of all the 4 Blu-rays we now have of DQ. So fear not, dear reader --- this review will be cheerful with only a few sour words at the end. 

Kamil Pavelka as Don Quixtoe and Christoph Wenzel as Sancho Panza manage to amuse without appearing too serious or too silly (a trick surprisingly difficult to pull off). You will recall that Don Quixtoe is inspired by the spirit of Dulcinea to go forth in the world saving maidens in distress:

Spunky Maria Yakovleva as Kitri:

And next below we see the personable Denys Cherevychko as Basilio with Alice Firenze and Nina Tonoli as Kitri's friends (they look here like twins but they aren't):

The original Don Q was imagined in the time of Shakespeare, but the ballet is usually updated by centuries. Designer Georgiadis states in the keepcase booklet that he set this DQ in Spain in the "happy" Goya era. Did you know that Goya was once happy? Well, one of the most glorious paintings in the Prada museum is the Quitasol (The Umbrella) painted by Goya when he was 31:

There wasn't enough light on the stage in Vienna to come up with anything as colorful as the Quitasol. Maybe the portrait below of Manuel Godoy, painted by Goya in 1801, is what Georgiadis had in mind:

Below see Roman Lazik as the toreador Espada:

And on the far right in black is Andrey Kaydanovskiy as Gamache, the wealthy but prissy landowner that Kitri refuses to marry:

We think Act 1 in the "standard" version of DQ runs too long and starts to get wearisome. Nureyev trims it so he can expand his Act 2. Finishing Act 1 is the Basilio/Kitri pas de deux below:

Nureyev's brilliant Act 2 opens with a delicious anti-pas de deux. The sweethearts have disobeyed Kitri's father and run away.  Now that they can do anything they want, what exactly, they ponder, are they supposed to do?

 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Feb092018

Bruckner Symphony No. 3 

Bruckner Symphony No. 3 (the "Wagner Symphony"). Christian Thielemann conducts the Dresden Staatskapelle at the Philharmonie Munich in 2016. Video director was Elizabeth Malzer. Released 2017 disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: F+

Christian Hoskins in the August 2017 Gramophone (page 34) lauds this recording for grandeur with orchestra playing in a "class of its own."  He states this title is one of the best recordings of the Bruckner S3 "available in any medium." Later in the December 2017 Gramophone, page 36, Hoskins calls this his favorite recording for 2017!  With this kind applause from Hoskins, we can assume subject title is an excellent sound recording of a splendid performance. And as you can see from the screenshots below, the PQ is also satisfying with nice lighting, good color balance, and decent HD resolution.

Hoskins also mentions the video content stating that "Elizabeth Malzer's video direction is relatively unimaginative, which is not necessarily a bad thing." So we put this title on the buy list promptly in hopes that Malzer might be slowing down the pace and making big-scale shots in an effort to avoid the problem of DVDitis that is so prevalent in Blu-ray symphony recordings.

But it's so distressing:  we have to report that the video content in this Bruckner 3 is the worst we have seen ever from a major publisher with a video originally shot in 1080i or better (the absolute worst was the Avie Mahler 10 which must be regarded as probably student work). Having reached and breached this sad conclusion, we have to offer plenty of proof. Here goes.

The first solemn obligation of the videographer of a symphony concert is to give the home viewer whole-orchestra (WO) shots at the outset so that the viewer can see how the orchestra is organized and where the players are located. The viewer needs this info to understand what he's seeing in the smaller-scale clips he will encounter throughout the recording. And this is especially true when, as here, the layout of the orchestra is a bit unusual.

Well, next below is a screenshot of Malzer's opening clip as the title of the disc appears. But this is not a WO view, because the players on the stage are so tiny. You can see the tympani and a cluster of basses, which you can't reliably count. Otherwise you can't tell who is where. In a WO shot, the players must fill the entire field of vision horizontally across the film to show the viewer as much as possible about the musicians:

So Malzer has split her britches badly before the music begins. Instead of a WO shot, she gives us an "anthill." (There are times when the videographer might add value with this kind of shot to show us a magnificent concert hall, but that doesn't apply here when the lights are already down.) To make matters worse, Malzer seems to be positively enamoured of mounds Formicidae, which she sprinkles 30 times throughout the video. Next below we show 2 of her anthilliest views, which often pop up when Bruckner reaches one of his volcanic eruptions of fffff sound.

But the most irritating thing of all about this perverse mismatch of big sounds with tiny pictures is that Malzer had a splendid WO shot in her quiver that she could have used at will. That's the next shot below which appears exactly one time in the video, and that at 46:04, which is about 3/4s of the way through the symphony:

For most of the video, we were lost in space watching small-scale views of solos or small groups and constantly wondering where they were sitting on the stage. But at 46:04 we hit the freeze-frame button to finally study the lay of the land.  We learned there are some 16 1st violins, 14 2nd violins, 12 violas, 10 cellos in a ragged wedge, and probably 12 basses. It appears there are 4 trumpets, 3 bones, 4 horns, and 2 each of the rest of the standard winds, plus one set of tympani. The woodwinds appears to be seated quite far apart. The rest of the players are a bit crowded together. This information makes it so much easier to understand the rest of the remaining clips in the film. Watching a symphony video shouldn't have to be like solving Rubik's Cube!

Astonishingly, this WO shot (46:04), which is the best image in the entire disc, only appears one time in the video. And it lasts for less than 3 seconds! How is is possible to for Malzer to do everything so upside-down and backwards!

Next below we see one other WO shot, which occurs a single time at 51:04. It misses players on the left, but we are usually happy if the WO angle picks up 90%+ of the players. It's quite lop-sided. But the main problem with this WO shot is that the angle is too low. The players on the front and the music stands hamper our view of the interior of the orchestra:

 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Feb092018

Mahler Symphonies 1-10

Mahler Symphonies 1-10. This is a box set of all 10 Mahler symphonies played by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra as conducted by Paavo Järvi. These titles were released earlier as follows:

1. Mahler Symphonies 1-2

2. Mahler Symphonies 3-4

3. Mahler Symphonies 5-6

4. Mahler Symphonies 7-8

5. Mahler Symphonies 9-10

Released 2015, all discs have 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade for the full box: F-

We only paid $60 for this box (new). But it is still the most colossal disappointment we have had in 10 years of buying fine-art Blu-ray videos, and it has earned the lowest grade we ever gave. Symphony No. 1 was shot in HD and has normal (rather nice actually) HDVD-level PQ. But all the other symphonies in this box (and in all the individual 2-symphony packages you can buy) were shot with SD cameras. Then the SD video images were "uprezed" to HD masters. The PQ for S2-S10 thus pimped out in Blu-ray is horribile, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, and horrible. That's horrible9!

We went back to see how we were lured into the trap of buying this. The "full details" from the vendors say "made from an HD master." Now we have full proof of the vacuousness of that claim made to us by C Major. And it's also proof of the worthlessness of anything the vendors say, as they are merely parroting what they are fed by the publishers. There was one customer review on Amazon we read which warned correctly that there are no menus on the discs to help you find what you want to see, but probably that person bought the DVD version and was not aware of the uprezing. José Luis Bermüdez wrote a nice review on www.classical.net. That review had pictures of Blu-ray packages, but it's obvious José watched this on DVD.  Alas, many old-line reviewers still haven't upgraded from DVD to Blu-ray. They tend to live in the past, and they are rumored to sometimes just listen to the music with the video turned off!

Well, the best way to increase your chances of getting accurate information about fine-arts Blu-rays is to come to this website. During the last 10 years, we have consigned about 20% of new Blu-ray titles to our "Excluded List" for lack of real HD video or surround  Hi-Fi sound. And we also give bad grades to titles that make the first cut but still disappoint.

We would have put this Mahler Box on the excluded list, but it does have one real HD video with surround sound. So we are going to grade each of the individual titles and the box as a whole.

The only other Mahler 1-10 Blu-ray box on the market is the one from RCO Live, which we graded D. If you go to our Alphalist, you well see we have to date (February 2018) unearthed only 2 Mahler recordings that correctly take advantage of current video technology: the Saito Kinen Mahler 1 and a recent Mahler 2 from the Concertgebouw with Gatti conducting.  Forget about the rest of the Mahler Blu-rays to date and enjoy your CDs and other audio products. We are just getting started with making proper symphony videos in the new HDVD era.

Friday
Feb022018

Bruckner Symphony No. 1

Bruckner Symphony No. 1. Christian Thielemann conducts the Staatskapelle Dresden in 2017. Directed for TV by Andreas Morell. Released 2018, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here's an official trailer:

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

Friday
Feb022018

Mozart Operas

Mozart Operas "box" with 3 titles, all performed at Glyndebourne. Below are the titles. Each of them has already been reported on this website, and you can get more details by using the links provided:

1. Le nozze di Figaro.  (Grade N/A)

2. Die Entführung aus dem Serail. (Grade N/A) 

3. Così fan tutte. (Grade A+)

Friday
Feb022018

From the New World

Dvořák From the New World symphony concert. Andris Nelsons conducts the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig at the Gewandhaus zu Leipzig in 2017. Features soprano Kristine Opolais. Here's the program :

1. Dvořák Othello Overture

2. Dvořák "Mesícku na nebi hlubokém" ("Song to the Moon") from Rusalka

3.  Dvořák Songs My Mother Taught Me, Op. 55 No. 4 from Gypsy Songs

4. Dvořák "Polonaise" from Rusalka

5. Bedřich Smetana How confused I feel? from Dalibor

6. Oh! it's useless from Rusalka

7. Dvořák Symphony No. 9 "From the New World"

Directed for TV by Michael Beyer; produced by Paul Smaczny. Released 2018, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

 

Friday
Feb022018

Werther

Massenet Werther opera to a libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet, and Georges Hartmann. Directed 2017 by Tatjana Gürbaca at the Opernhaus Zürich. Stars Juan Diego Flórez (Werther), Anna Stéphany (Charlotte), Mélissa Petit (Sophie), Audun Iversen (Albert), Cheyne Davidson (Le Bailli) & Martin Zysset (Schmidt). Cornelius Meister conducts the Philharmonia Zürich, Kinderchor und SoprAlti der Oper Zürich, and the Statistenverien am Opernhaus Zürich (Chorus Master Ernst Raffelsberger). Set and lighting design by Klaus Grünberg; costume design by Silke Willrett; dramaturgy by Claus Spahn; video direction by Michael Beyer; produced by Paul Smaczny. Released 2018, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here's an official trailer:

Please help us with a comment about this disc!

Tuesday
Jan302018

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV concert (The Royal Funerals of Louis XIV). Performed November, 2015 at the Palace of Versailles. Raphaël Pichon conducts the Ensemble Pygmalion. Features singers Céline Scheen (Soprano), Lucile Richardot (Mezzo-soprano), Samuel Boden (Tenor), Marc Mauillon (Baritone), and Christian Immler (Baritone). Released 2018. Grade: Help!

For the 300th anniversary of the death of Louis XIV, the Sun King, the Palace of Versailles staged a concert featuring baroque French compostions played during the various funereal processions of the king. Here is the program, and which cycle of the funeral procession each work was played at:

1. Lying in state
Jean Colin – Miserere, falso-bordone for 6 voices

2. Funeral procession
André Danican Philidor - Drums and Funeral March for the King's Procession 

3. Office for the Dead
Michel-Richard de Lalande - De Profundis, Grand Motet  

4. Absoution & Burial
Jean Colin - Pie Jesu, plainsong and falso-bordone for 6 voices  

5. Fanfare "Le Roy est mort ! Vive le Roy !"

6. Funeral ceremony & first anniversary
Michel-Richard de Lalande -  Dies Irae, Grand Motet 

Please help us with a comment about this disc!

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