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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Entries in Accentus (49)

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!

Wednesday
Jan032018

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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Tuesday
Jan022018

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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Tuesday
Jan022018

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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Tuesday
Jan022018

Mahler Symphony No. 9

Mahler Symphony No. 9 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 2014, 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. Like the rest of the titles in this series, it sports good audio and picture quality. Rob Cowan, writing in the February 2015 Gramophone (page 36) gives his blessing to the performance as well stating "This . . . is Chailly off the leash, liberating the music in a way that is impassioned, positive, fitfully fractured, and often ethereal." But Cowan didn't realize that this title also suffers from poor video content.

TV director Feudel does provide some nice shots. First below we have a fine whole-orchestra view:

Next we have one of the few part-orchestra shots:

Four horns make up the whole horn section for this symphony:

Below is a nice view of some violas. The angle is high enough for you to clearly see the players:

But in the next view, the angle on the cellos is too low:

Below is a good shot of the contrabassoon---it is nicely framed, presenting player and instrument equally:

 

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Tuesday
Dec262017

Mahler Symphony No. 1

Mahler Symphony No. 1 "Titan" concert. Riccardo Chailly conducts the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig in 2015. Directed by Ute Feudel; produced by Paul Smaczny. 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.

a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0789TKQB4/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=culturevult05-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=B0789TKQB4" target="_blank"><

Friday
Dec222017

Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"

Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection". Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall on 9/10/2011 commemorating the attack on the World Trade Center buildings ten years earlier on 9/11/2001. Singers are Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano), and the New York Choral Artists (directed by Joseph Flummerfelt). Directed by Michael Beyer; produced by Paul Smaczny. This performance is also known as A Concert for New York: In Rembembrance and Renewal. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio Sound. Grade: C+

David Gutman in the February 2012 Gramophone at page 55 has interesting information about this live performance in New York and generally praises it. It appears Gutman only saw the DVD, which is the norm for magazine reviewers. 

For the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the New York Philharmonic performed Mahler's Symphony No. 2 for free. The Philharmonic also set up an outdoor screen and seating so even more New Yorkers could watch the show. The result is a performance charged with emotion - not only was there pressure to perform well in honor the victims of the attacks and the first responders, but many members of the audience were relatives of victims and not typical classical music fans. Of course, the New York Philharmonic was up to the task and perform admirably. The sound is mixed and miked well. However the encoding rate is only 48kHz/16-bit. The picture quality is also good - it may not be the best resolution we have seen but the title is by no means soft and there are no glaring visual defects. The state is well lit and the colors are natural.

Video content, however, is plagued with the dread disease DVDitis, which was perhaps more prevalent in 2011 than today (2017). 

All is not bad though. Below we have a nice establishing shot of the whole orchestra:

And here we have a closer shot of most of the orchestra:

This is a nice large-group shot of the woodwinds and some horns:

A small-scale shot of the violins:

 

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Wednesday
Nov082017

John Cage - Journeys in Sound

John Cage - Journeys in Sound documentary film. Directed by Allan Miller and Paul Smaczny to mark the composer's centenary. The film has interviews with Wiliam Anastasi, Irvine Arditti, Dove Bradshaw, Brian Brandt, Merce Cunningham, Julia Henning, Toshio Hosokawa, John Lennon, Mayumi Miyata, Yoko Ono, Wolfgang Rihm, Steffen Schleiermacher, Calvin Tomkins, David Tudor, Christian Wolff, the Ensemble Modern, Schlagquartett Köln, and others. Written by Anne-Kathrin Peitz; edited by Steffen Hermann; produced by Paul Smaczny. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

In 2012, this disc won the "Best Documentary" award at the International Golden Prague Festival. It also won the 2013 International Classical Music Award for best "DVD Documentary." (No confusion -two different awards.)

To say that John Cage (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) is a controversial figure in the world of composers is hardly a controversial statement. This documentary, I suspect, won't go far in changing the minds of those who believe that Cage was either a genius or a fraud. What this documentary can give viewers is some understanding of who Cage was and why his unusual composing style resonates with many.

Below is an example of a prepared piano:

The documentary follows the same structure as other fine-arts documentaries we have reviewed. There is no narrator. The film is split roughly into thirds: one-third legacy material of interviews with Cage; one-third modern interviews with those who knew Cage and have been influenced by him; and one-third modern snippets of his work being performed by musicians. The legacy materials are not high-def, but the portions filmed recently are. One of the modern interviewees is Brian Brandt - the man behind Mode Records, which has released the excellent John Cage - Music for Speaking Percussionist.

The film does a good job of explaining the thinking behind Cage's techniques and methodologies, both in his early period of percussion pieces and works with prepared pianos and in his later, more avant-garde work with chance compositions. Cage's work with chance compositions - the creation of pieces with help from random number generators like the I Ching - attempts to pursue pure sound. Cage intended to let sound speak for itself and did not want his personality to shape these chance compositions. The value of this process is up to the listener. (Though most of the interviewees speak highly of Cage and his peculiar compositional style, there is one who is critical. He states that as Cage and his works become more and more radical in their abandonment of traditional musical language, the compositions themselves no longer serve as music, but more as a statement of ideals. No longer is Cage writing music, but manifestos.)

Next below, Steffen Schleiermacher performing Water Music:

Here is the Cage invented scoring system for Water Music. It was printed so large to allow the audience to see the score before the performance:

 

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Monday
Nov062017

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto & Sibelius Symphony No. 5

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and Sibelius  Symphony No. 5 concert. The Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 3 is also on the program.  Joshua Bell is soloist for the violin concerto. Sakari Oramo conducts the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Directed for TV by Michael Beyer; produced by  Paul Smaczny. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital and dts-HD sound. Grade: A for Violin Concerto. Grade D for Sibelius Symphony No. 5.

This was the Nobel Prize concert for 2010. In the audience was the Swedish royal family and tons of smart people there to receive Nobel prize checks.  The video editors often include shots of famous people seen in the audience. The only problem is that I rarely know who they are. I wish the publishers would identify somehow the famous people seen in the audience!

I do think the beautiful lady in my first screenshot below is Queen Silvia of Sweden. She was a German citizen and a commoner when she met the man who would eventually be King of Sweden. She must be pretty smart too since Swedish became her 6th language. (If the picture below is not Silvia, please let me know!)

I originally auditioned this title back in 2011 and wrote a short, superficial review. This was before we decided how grade a video of a violin concerto. I was also completely stumped by Sibelius. So now it's time to improve the review of this title. The next screenshot below is a nice opening whole-orchestra shot that let's you see where all the different instruments are located (playing Leonore Overture No. 3 as warm-up):

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

The next two shots of Bell are called "realistic" because they can be seen by members of the live audience:

This view is too close for a member of the audience to see. But we still call this "realistic" because it clearly shows bowing and fingering:

Shots from the back are un-realistic:

And this shot is also unrealistic because you can't see the strings clearly:

 

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