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.



Brahms Cycle 

Brahms Cycle Box Set with most of Brahms' famous symphonic works performed in three recording venues The works are split onto three discs, each with its own keepcase booklet:

Disc One (Severance Hall, Cleveland):
     Academic Festival Overture
     Violin Concerto
     Symphony No. 4 

Disc Two:
     Symphony No. 1 (The Royal Albert Hall, London)   
     Symphony No. 2 (Musikverein Golden Hall, Vienna)
     Symphony No. 3 (Musikverein Golden Hall, Vienna)

Disc Three (Severance Hall, Cleveland):
     Variations on a Theme by Haydn (Choral St. Antoni)
     Piano Concerto No. 1
     Tragic Overture
     Piano Concerto No. 2

Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra. Yefim Bronfman plays the piano and Julia Fischer is the violin soloist. All the music was recorded in 2014 and 2015. There is a bonus with Franz Welser-Möst and Julia Fischer discussing the Violin Concerto.  Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. We don't grade the box. See links below to to the 3 individual titles for grades on the major works, which range from A to D+!

Recently we have seen a trend of publishers packaging 3 or more previously independently-released discs into box sets (Opus Arte has been a leader in this). Here we have the opposite: In 2015, Belvedere published this Brahms Cycle box set; in 2017-2018, Belvedere published each of the 3 individually. So for complete information, follow the links below:

Disc 1, with the Violin Concerto and Symphony No. 4

Disc 2, with Symphonies 1-3

Disc 3, with Piano Concertos No. 1 and No. 2


Brahms Violin Concerto

Brahms Violin Concerto and Symphony No. 4 concert. Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in 2014 at Severance Hall, Cleveland. The disc also includes Brahms Academic Festival Overture. Julia Fischer is the violin soloist. This disc also is available as part of a box set with Brahms' most famous symphonic works. Audio Producer Elaine Mortone; TV Director William Cosel; Producer Herbert G. Kloiber. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: For the Violin Concerto: A   For Symphony No. 4: D-  (The Academic Festival Overture is not reviewed.)

Brahms Violin Concerto

Here's a shot of the whole orchestra (WO) in warm-up before Julia Fischer comes out. It's great to have a chance early to see where all the musicians are sitting. The resolution, however, is only good --- not the best:

The concerto is beginning and we get yet another WO view of the various sections - how nice!

And now a part orchestra (PO) shot with a closer view of the cellos and basses:

Julia Fischer had been an A level violin soloist for over a decade when she made this recording. She was also a concert pianist who could play most of the famous piano concertos (usually with top student orchestras or other special groups). Finally, she was a professor teaching at the university level in Munich.  A busy lady, she still had the energy to find Brahms' passion lurking within his classical concerto form. Following are 2 "realistic" shots of Fischer as soloist:

Next below is a "non-realistic" shot. This is not a view a member of the audience could have, so we deem it to be of lower value than the realistic images:


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Brahms Symphonies 1-3

Brahms Symphonies 1-3. Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in 2014 at the Royal Albert Hall, London (Symphony No. 1) and at the Musikverein Golden Hall, Vienna (Symphonies 2 and 3). This disc is also available as part of a box set with Brahms' most famous symphonic works. TV Director was Jonathan Haswell (Symphony 1) and Brian Large (Symphonies 2 and 3); Producer was Herbert G. Kloiber. Released 2018, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: For Symphony No. 1 B-   For Symphonies 2 and 3: B

Symphony No. 1 at the Proms

Richard Osborne, writing in the January 2016 Gramophone at page 29, approved of the Welser-Möst interpretation of Brahms S1 and the sound recording, which he deemed better than all the other audio recordings made in Cleveland or Vienna and included in the Belvedere Brahms Cycle Box. We will accept Osborne's opinions on this as coming from on high.

Our humble comments will focus on the video. First we note that Severance Hall in Cleveland and the Golden Hall in Vienna are among the most beautiful music venues on earth. Alas, the bulbous Royal Albert Hall in London is one of  the ugliest. Moving a big orchestra in, setting up, and escaping the RAH in the middle of the annual Proms marathon must be among the most challenging logistical tasks undertaken since the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  This probably explains why many of the images shown below make me think of a battlefield. Or, at least, I think that making a video at the Proms must be quite a battle.

There isn't a good whole-orchestra (WO) orientation shot for this Brahms S1. The two weaker WO shots shown first below combine to let the home audience viewer see where the various sections are seated:

Now we have the violin sections:

And below is a good shot of the double-bass section:

 All the woodwinds:


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Brahms Piano Concertos Nos. 1 - 2

Brahms Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in 2015 at Severance Hall, Cleveland. Yefim Bronfman is the Piano soloist. The disc also includes Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn and Tragic Overture. This disc is available as part of a box set with Brahms' most famous symphonic works. Audio Producer was Christoph Claßen; TV Director was William Cosel; Producer was Herbert G. Kloiber. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

The two piano concertos included in this title are nearly the same length and have the same video director; after viewing both a few times, we've determined that reviewing just Piano Concert No. 1 in depth will give the reader enough information about the overall quality of the title. (We don't grade the Variations and the Tragic Overture.)

Lets start with a whole-orchestra shot. The lighting is warm and the resolution is fine. It's nice to see the layout of the orchestra and the architecture of Severance Hall:

Severence Hall is equiped with a remarkable crane that's mounted close to the left-front of the stage.  This allows for sweeping aerial shots:

There are several nice shots of parts of sections throughout the recording. Here we see some violins:

Below is a nice group shot of some woodwinds:

One of the oddest quirks of this title are 22 directly-overhead shots of the piano or the piano and orchestra (probably made also from the crane). We wouldn't mind showing the angle next below once or twice --- the viewer can see how the large Severance Hall stage allows the orchestra to spread out. These overhead angles may be what critic Richard Osborne called "inconsistent and eccentric video direction" (January 2016 Gramophone at page 29). We brand these overhead angles as low-value gimmicks:

And next below is an overhead shot of Bronfman, which which we also count as unrealistic (meaning that it's not a shot that an audience member could see) and low-value:


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Così fan tutte

Mozart Così fan tutte opera to libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Directed 2016 by Jan Philipp Gloger at the Royal Opera House. Stars Corinne Winters (Fiordiligi), Angela Brower (Dorabella), Daniel Behle (Ferrando), Alessio Arduini (Guglielmo), Johannes Martin Kränzle (Don Alfonso), and Sabina Puértolas (Despina). Semyon Bychkov conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning) and the Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director William Spaulding). Set design by Ben Baur; costume design by Karin Jud; lighting by Bernd Purkrabek; dramaturgy by Katharina John; directed for the screen by Rhodri Huw. Released 2018, 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.

Here is an official clip from Opus Arte:


La grande danza

La grande danza---Aterballetto in Milan triple bill of dances performed 2017 by the Aterballeto Dance Company at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. Directed for TV by Andreas Morell with Director of Photography Henning Brümmer:

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: B+

Fondazione Nazionale Della Danza ATERBALLETTO (full name) is the leading contemporary dance company in Italy. ATER stands for the "Association of Theaters in Emilia-Romagna". The company originated in and is still based in Reggio Emila, a small city in Northern Italy. It also appears to be the largest dance company in Italy that is not operated by an opera house. It is a producing company and its dancers are constantly on the move touring theaters in Italy and other countries.

We start with two location shots of Milan, where La grande danza was filmed:

Each of the 3 works begins with a short introduction by its choreographer. The works are not discussed in the keepcase booklet, which only has 2 pages with a track list, the names of the dancers (alphabetical order) in each piece, and technical credits.

Words and Space

Jiří Pokorny, guest choreographer, explains in his introduction that Words and Space depicts the inner thoughts of a single character, whom I'll call "the man." The other dancers represent inner voices that arrise from various thoughts of the man. Some of these inner voices are male and some female. Pokorny imagines we are all confined indefinitely to an empty space populated by our inner voices. I don't know if Pokorny's concept has any basis in psychology or brain science. Perhaps the inner voices are stand-ins for all the people and forces that affect us as we go through life.

Below are two shots of  "the man" played by, we think, by Saul Daniele Ardillo. The other dancers are Damiano Artale, Hektor Bublla, Martina Forioso, Philippe Kratz, Ina Lesnakowski, Valerio Longo, Ivana Mastroviti, Roberto Tedesco, Lucia Vergnano, Serena Vinzio, and Chiara Vascido:

Next below we see the inner voices in formation:

Sometimes the inner voices function as a unit vis-a-vis the man, who is in the image below crouched behind the woman in the center:


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Mahler Symphony No. 3

Mahler Symphony No. 3. Claudio Abbado conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, the female voices of the Arnold Schoenberg Choir Vienna, and the Tölzer Knabenchor in 2007. Mezzo-soprano Anna Larson is the soloist contralto. Directed for TV by Michael Beyer. Released in 2009, this disc has 5.1 PCM sound. Grade: C+

Because this is the longest symphony in the standard repertoire (92 minutes in 2 Parts with 6 Movements), you seldom get to hear it live. It has been recorded many times on CD. There are (January 2018) a couple of old DVDs recordings of this available perhaps only at high collector-item prices. There is a Blu-ray video in the RCO Mahler 1-10 box set (graded D), and there is a Blu-ray from the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra available as part of several combo packages. It would appear then that subject disc is the only Mahler Symphony No. 3 available as a stand-alone Blu-ray from a famous orchestra and conductor. M3 is perhaps Mahler's most dramatic and ambitious symphony, so it's ironic that it's so rarely performed and recorded. Back when this came out (2009), the print critics were enthusiastic about the performance, and so are we today.

But this was done early in the HDVD era, a DVD version was published also, and Michael Beyer directed the video. So its no surprise that the title suffers from a terrible case of DVDitis. In this review, I'll show you screenshots first and will follow with an analysis of the weak video content that drags down our grade. First below is a typical whole-orchestra shot---it's pretty good even if the angle is a bit too low and a few players on the flanks are missing:

The next shot below gets all the players and the angle is good. But this is not a whole-orchestra shot. The range is too far away. I call this an architectural view when it's used for valid reasons. In this video this shot appears about 7 times and is used to tell you that the sounds you are hearing come from off-stage musicians that Mahler often used to create mysterious musical effects. This shot also shows the TV cameras located to the conductor's left behind the violins and another on a left balcony. But you don't see any cameras on the right. This may explain why so many of the screenshots below were shot from the left side of the stage:

Over 50% of the video clips are small-scale like the rare shot below of the two lead viola players:

M3 has maybe the most glorious solo trombone part in classical music. For this performance, Abbado recruited Jörgen van Rijen, then the principal trombone player with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, who is in the center of the next view below. We show Jörgen playing with the trumpet virtuoso Reinhold Friedrich because at that point all the brass instruments are cloaked with cloth "bag" mutes. Mahler loved unusual methods of creating special orchestra colors:

And here's a fine large-scale view of all 9 of the horns employed:

The TV director had the ability to make just about any shot he wanted from the left. Next below is a wonderful multi-section shot of the violas and cellos:


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Mahler Symphony No. 5

Mahler Symphony No. 5. Riccardo Chailly conducts the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig. Directed for TV by Henning Kasten; sound production by Sebastian Braun; produced by Günter Atteln and Paul Smaczny. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C

This got a Gramophone "Editor's Choice" award in the November 2014 issue (page 31), so we know the performance was excellent. But Gramophone critic Rob Cowan, writing about this award, noted that, "the camerawork [is] largely unobtrusive and more often than not focusing on Chailly himself. He's a pleasure to watch, being neither overly-demonstrative nor affectedly matter-of-fact." H'm. This was a sure tip off that this video probably is infected with DVDitis. (If you are not familiar with the term "DVDitis", see our special article on this dread disease.)

So I did a Wonk Worksheet. There are 66 minutes, 38 seconds of music divided into 746 video clips. This yields the pace of 5.4 seconds per clip for the whole symphony. Here is a more detailed breakdown:

Conductor shots = 146
Conductor-over-backs shots = 64
Solo and other small-scale clips = 334
*Large-scale clips = 109
*Part-orchestra clips = 5
*Whole-orchestra clips = 13
Instrument-only clips = 64
Other low value shots = 11 (all anthill views)

There are 127 "supershots" (add up the * numbers above of 109+5+13). So the supershots are 17% of the total clips (127/746). Conductor shots total 210 (146+64), and conductor shots use up 28% of the clips (210/746).

HDVDarts.com has established the following rules-of-thumb to identify a Blu-ray with DVDitis:

A good symphony HDVD should have a slow pace with more than 10 seconds per video clip on average. 20 to 40% of the clips should be large-scale "supershots." Conductor shots should be less (way less really) than 20% of the clips in the video.

Subject title flunks the pace test badly with the average clip running 5.4  seconds, which is the pace of a typical DVD. It also fails the conductor test badly with 28% of the clips focusing on Chailly. Lastly it fails the supershot test, with 17%.

Now for a few screenshots. First we see 1 of the 13 whole-orchestra views. Alas, the angle is too low here to see the interior of the orchestra well:

Next below is one of 11 "ant-hill shots." This view shows the whole orchestra, but it's not a WO shot. A WO shot shows all the orchestra (well, say 85% or more) and takes up the entire horizontal field so that the image gets as close as possible to the performers. With a correct WO shot, the viewer enjoys a view of the performers as clearly as possible with the resolution available to the camera making the image. Usually the orchestra will take up half or more of the total picture area. In the shot below, the orchestra only takes up a small fraction of the area shown in the view. Because the camera is so far away, you can't distinguish much about the individual musicians in the picture except that they appear to be squirming like ants working on their mound:

Below are 3 decent large-scale shots. First is one of the better shots of the violins:

Here we have the double basses:

And finally we have a large-scale shot with a mix of woodwinds:

On occasion the solo-shots are particularly interesting, such as the clapper below. But there are also many score of shots of individual players that quickly become boring:


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Mahler Symphony No. 6 

Mahler Symphony No. 6 ("Tragic"). Riccardo Chailly conducts the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig in 2012. Audio production by Sebastian Braun; directed for TV by Ute Feudel; produced by Günter Atteln and Paul Smaczny. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C+

The video content of this Mahler Symphony No. 6 recording directed by Ute Feudel is somewhat better than the video content of the Mahler Symphony No. 5 recording directed by Henning Kasten. Here for example is one of quite a few M6 whole-orchestra shots provide by Feudel:

But Feudel also produced several mostly useless anthill shots in this video such as the one next below:

Feudel can be proud the magnificent part-orchestra shot shown next below:


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Mahler Symphony No. 7

Mahler Symphony No. 7 concert. Riccardo Chailly conducts the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig. Audio production by Sebastian Braun; directed for TV by Ute Feudel; produced by Günter Atteln and Paul Smaczny. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C

This title is one of a series of all the Mahler symphonies performed by the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Chailly. All the titles in this series seem to suffer from poor video content. In this review we will first view some screenshots and later discuss video-content data.

First below is a typical whole-orchestra shot from this film. It just barely qualifies as whole-orchestra with quite a few players missing on the flanks. Also, the angle is too low to really get a good feel for the organization of the orchestra:

Feudel does provide some well thought-out shots. Next below we have a good view of most of the double basses:

Here we see 3 oboes with a flute and an English horn also in the frame:


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