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

October 15. We are getting again into symphony titles and the existential issue of DVDitis. I just posted a story on a Mahler 2 recording at the Gewandhaus that might be considered DOA from the dread plague.

I recently put up a story about the 3rd version (!) of the same Giselle production published by Opus Arte. I recently posted a story about the Ekman Midsummer Night's Dream ballet (which has nothing to do with Shakespeare). I also just posted two stories about Shakespeare's The Tempest. The first is a definitive stage play version by the RSC. The second is an updated review of The Tempest movie staring Helen Mirren as Prospera (the female version of Prospero). The movie is streamlined - try it first. Then move on to the RSC "real deal", which is probably the best The Tempest ever made for home viewing.

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Entries in AIX (3)

Monday
Jul232012

Bryan Pezzone Piano Pieces

Piano Pieces by Bryan Pezzone. Recital recorded 2010 at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles features the following numbers:

1. Pezzone - Bliss Ballad

2. Elgar - Salut d'Amour / Pezzone - Healing

3. Mozart Club Sandwich - Improvisation - Pezzone

4. Mozart Club Sandwich - Sonata in E Flat Mvt. 1 K. 282 - Adagio

5. Mozart Club Sandwich - Improvisation - Pezzone

6. Mozart Club Sandwich - Sonata in C Major Mvt. 1 K. 330 - Allegro Moderato

7. Mozart Club Sandwich - Improvisation - Pezzone

8. Pezzone - Morning Prayer

9. Schubert - Impromptu Op. 90 #1 in C / Pezzone - Improvised Variations on "We Shall Overcome"

10. Pezzone - Berceuse

Sound recorded with 96kHz/24bit sampling and delivered in several mixes in PCM stereo, 5.1 Dolby Digital, and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. Video shot at 59.94 frames per second. You can watch this in 2D as well as in 3D. Photography by Jeremy Whaley, lighting by Ryan Medvits, directed by Greg Le Duc, audio recording and mastering by Dominic Robelotto, produced by Mona and Mark Waldrep. Released 2012. Grade: X-APH-C.

Bryan Pezzone calls himself a "cross-over" pianist. He started as a classical musician and then branched out into jazz, movie music, contemporary projects, and the like. He devised a Freedom Series of concerts "where I just decide what I feel like doing next without any preplanned program." The Freedom Series was apparently the model for this AIX recording.

You can see that there isn't much classical music on this disc. So the first question was whether to cover this on HDVDarts. Well, we covered the Jackie Evancho Dream with Me title here with because Jackie was a child prodigy who sang 4 short operas arias like an adult (except for childish diction). So there's precedent to include the Pezzone Piano Pieces.

This AIX recording has more going for it than might be indicated by the our grade, so let me explain.

The most interesting thing about this title is the 3D feature.  The resolution is a bit soft. But with my TV set in "bright mode" in a dark room, there is enough light to give reasonable (if somewhat rosy) color rendition through my 3D glasses. Because the cameramen were quite close to a single object, they got great depth-of-field-of-focus throughout. The result is that Waldrep and Whaley were able to get the best 3D image I have seen so far. There is no "cardboard cutout" problem. When the camera shows a close up of Pezzone's upper body and head, I can see a clear change in depth from the edge of his shoulder, across his shoulder, and then on to his neck. From there I can see that his face is closer to me than his neck and the contours of his head seem natural. In other words, small differences in the degree of depth are accurately portrayed on my flat screen in a way that is convincing. In recent years I've watched a lot of hands on keyboards striking ivory. The AIX shots of Pezzone's hands running up and down the keyboard are the best I've ever seen.

The AIX 3D picture isn't perfect. When the camera shoots straight at Pezzone over the piano strings, my eye can't make sense of the long piano lid that I see edgewise. And why couldn't they shield that that light mounted on the audience side of piano? But overall, subject title suggests that maybe 3D eventually can play an important role in classical music videos, even including solo recitals.

Of course, the sound quality is also superb as always with AIX recordings. And the AIX folks found a really nice Steinway for this event.

Most of the music Pezzone plays are his own compositions or improvisations. Pezzone is obviously a great person and entertainer. His music is what I would call "high-class easy listening contemporary." I expect one day to enjoy him playing as guest artist on wonderful pop shows along with folks like Andrea Bocelli, Chris Botti, and Sarah Brightman.

But I doubt that Pezzone is any longer competitive among full-time classical pianists. And for sure, if he wants to be competitive, he will have to memorize what he plays. That's right folks, on this recording Pezzone reads all the classical music from sheets. This hurts him badly in the Schubert where he bangs too much, his pacing is rough, he almost breaks his singing line several time while fiddling with the score lying on top of the piano, and there is no energy left over for architecture.

We hit the subject of sheet music once before. For more on my condemnation of using sheet music in solo piano HDVDs, see my review of a recital by Menahem Pressler. Briefly, sheet music is fine for public performances unless one of the 6 "ps" is seriously involved (prize, pay, prestige, professionalism, pride, or perfectionism). To get a top-level performance, the artist must know the music by heart. I paid good money for this Blu-ray, so don't serve me any solos from sheet music!

This title provides an good demo of what state-of-the-art sound and video could do for worthwhile classical recital material. It might get a high grade on a website like Blu-ray.com which reviews a broad range of entertainment genres. But I suggest that you avoid this title unless you have a really good reason to get it. (One good reason might be to see the nice 3D treatment.) This suggestion normally results in the grade of "D" by our grading standards. But on account of the excellent sound and video provided by AIX, I'll  bump the grade up to a "C."

Saturday
Jul072012

Mozart Chamber Music (2D/3D)

Mozart Chamber Music. Performed by The Old City String Quartet: Bryan Lee, violin; Joel Link, violin; Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola; and Camden Shaw, cello. (The name of the group was later changed to the Dover Quartet.) Special appearances by Corey Klein on horn and Ruokai Chen on clarinet.

The program is as follow:

1. Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581

2. String Quartet, K. 169

3. Horn Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 407

Directed and produced by Mark Waldrep. Presented  in 2D and 3D, but the menu doesn't give you a choice of dimensions. If your set up is just 2D, it plays as usual. If you have a 3D set up, you get 3D. If you have a 3D set up but want to see the 2D presentation, you start with 3D, and then switch to 2D. On my Oppo BDP 93, I can do this with the "3D" toggle button on the remote control. (Another way would be to enter the menu, go to video set up, and turn off 3D.) We will review this as a 2D disc that everyone can enjoy.

This title has 53 minutes of music. The audio was recorded with 96 kHz/24-bit sampling, mixed in a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD "Stage" mix, a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD "Audience" mix, and a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix (as well as stereo). Grade: for 2D only.

First lets discuss the 2D presentation. AIX is famous for super-audiophile sound recordings. They are also interested in video. AIX first made DVDs. But they soon pushed into high-definition video in both 2D and 3D. AIX prefers to record in laboratory-type venues with no live audiences. They tend to record lesser-known or local artists.  So in the past we have tended to consider the AIX titles as "demo" records.

But now AIX has turned a corner with this Mozart chamber music record in its 2D presentation. The Dover Quartet is not a household name. But it is also definitely not a local group; they play regularly in serious venues all over the U.S.  All the musicians in the quartet seem still to be in their twenties; with maturity,  they have a shot at becoming a household name nationally or even internationally (well, at least in musical households).

Our first screenshot shows, from left to right, Joel Link on violin, Bryan Lee on violin, Ruokai Chen on clarinet, Camden Shaw on cello, and Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt on viola playing the the Clarinet Quintet, K. 581:

A nice portrait of Ruokai:

Closer views of Camden and Milena:

Here's the quartet alone in the String Quartet K. 169. Now Bryan is on 1st violin (I think):

And here's the configuration for the Horn Quintet K. 407. This is scored for 1 violin and 2 violas. Bryan has put aside his violin and is playing the 2nd viola part (I think):

The best shot I could get of Corey Klein on the horn:

And here's another angle on Corey, which also shows the two violas well:

The screenshots show that the video is pretty. The video specs are unusual: 1280 x 720 at 59.94 Hz (2 x the normal 29.97 spec). The lighting is decent, but you still sometimes see shadows on the faces of the players (from all those microphones all over the place). The resolution is a bit soft. The colors are on the warm side. But these are minor quibbles.

Mark Waldrep of AIX is primarily interested in the best recording of music that current technology can achieve. I'm not an audiophile. But I am qualified to say that this title has the best music recording that has been published so far in a HDVD (February 2016). The sound of each instrument is almost unbelievable real. And when the instruments are played in various combinations, you can hear each instrument individually contributing to the harmonious whole. And since I believe that seeing the performance is an important component to full perception of music, I'll say this is arguably the best recording of string chamber music ever published.

The quality of the performance takes this title out of the demo category. With this record, AIX and the Dover Quartet are competing in the international market for classical music recordings. So if you are interested in chamber music, you would want to add this to your HDVD library.

Now having said all these nice things, I still doubt that this has been a red-hot seller. 53 minutes of music (on a Blu-ray that can hold 4 times as much material) is not impressive. Selling music in one-hour chunks was what you did with LPs, and that was long, long ago. Today (February 2016) we have HDVDs with three-hour operas or all the Beethoven piano concertos played by Daniel Barenboim on a single disc. And we can buy 8 hours of Beethoven complete string quartets in a box of 4 Blu-rays selling for about $60.

Now lets go to the 3D version. Is seeing this in 3D worth all the trouble? Start with those fragile 3D glasses (no kids please) that have to be cleaned with special cloth and have their own batteries to keep up with. Once the glasses are on and the set up is playing 3D, you notice something like a 20% reduction in light coming from the picture. Even with my display mode set at "Brilliant," the dinginess of the AIX picture in 3D is quite noticeable. In 3D the musicians looked "warm"; in 3D, they look sunburned. The reduction in light output in 3D comes from the fact that the glasses have a tint in the lenses that's required by the 3D  technology. Another disadvantage from the tinted lenses is that I can't see the remote controls well enough to use them with the glasses on. The resolution of the picture seems degraded from the  slightly soft look in 2D. It seems there is often a kind of "lag" in the clarity of the picture when the scene changes. I too often get the impression from this title that the people you see in the picture are really photos pasted on cardboard set up in the room---i.e. this rendering of 3D is different from the seamless and ubiquitous 3D images we all take for granted in everyday life. Finally, this 3D image is sometimes spoiled by objects (like a music stand) that suddenly appear to be in my HT room where they don't belong.

The only advantage I get from this 3D picture is I can see better where the players are situated in respect to each other. To me, this is a small advantage. None of them are attacking me. Nor am I trying to lasso anyone in the quartet to serve to my tribe for dinner. There are plenty of clues for me in 2D about their locations. None of the musicians are moving around in a way that I might better understand with 3D capability.  Finally, one could say that the 3D view makes the image more "real." Oh, really? I know what see in my HT is not real. I'm not seeking reality. All I want is sounds and images that gives me a chance, with a minimum of distractions, to appreciate what the reality was on recording day.

So I conclude that the advantages of 3D for a string quartet are distinctly outweighed by the disadvantages. Subject title came out in 2012. Since then, I get the impression that 3D in the field of classical music is dead with current technology.  Still, kudos to Mark Waldrep for his tenaciousness in working hard for a year to get the 3D version on this disc. I'm not going to grade this down because of the 3D adventure.  I just wish Waldrep had focused on presenting more music in 2D and skipped the 3D part.

Summary:   if you are interested in video of classical chamber music, you should consider his title for the 2D version alone. It gets an "A" for a glowing performance by beautiful young musicians who may well sound better in your home theater than anything else you have. (I dropped a "+" for the short program and weakness in the video noted.)

Friday
Sep092011

Chamber Music Palisades

Chamber Music Palisades chamber music concert:

1. Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Quintet Op. 57

2. Claude Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola, & Harp

3. Jane Brockman's Feast for Five

Shot in the studio of AIX Records, this was the first ever HDVD of chamber music from any label. Stars Delores Stevens, Susan Greenberg, JoAnn Turavsky, Roger Wilkie, Rene Mandel, Paul Coletti, and Peter Stumpf, all top Los Angeles musicians. This disc was recorded and processed entirely in 96 kHz/24-bit audio. Music content runs 62 minutes. Released  2010, output is in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD which turns on the Oppo blue light for lossless sound output. No subtitles; printed material in English only. The DVD apparently had extra features, but the Blu-ray version does not. Plays in all regions. This title is sold only by AIX Records. Grade: X-APH-B

AIX makes super audiophile discs, usually with excellent artists who are still striving for fame and don't yet charge (I think) big fees. AIX insists on using 96 kHz/24-bit sound technology whenever possible. They are also interested in HD and 3D video. The sound on this recording is excellent. The video is a bit soft. With a short program played by local artists, it falls in the audiophile demo category and warrants a "B+" grade.

This disc was our sound-quality "reference" disc at HDVDarts. It's been replaced in that capacity, however, by the AIX Mozart disc played by the Old City String Quartet (now the Dover Quartet).