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.

__________________________________________________________________________

Entries in Berliner Philharmoniker (7)

Tuesday
May102016

Beethoven Symphonies 1-9

Updated on Saturday, June 11, 2016 at 12:08PM by Registered CommenterHenry McFadyen Jr.

Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 (or Complete Beethoven Symphonies) box set. Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker in all nine Beethoven symphonies. Other performers featured in Symphony No. 9 are Annette Dasch (Soprano), Eva Vogel (Mezzo-Soprano), Christian Elsner (Tenor), Dimitry Ivashchenko (Bass), and the Rundfunkchor Berlin (Simon Halsey, Chorus Master).  Grade: C+ (average for the 9 symphonies, based on specific grades for 6 titles as well as other general observations)

This review applies only to the Blu-ray video and not to the CDs or Blu-ray audio disc included in the box. The box contains:

  • 5 CDs (i.e. PCM 44.1kHz/16-bit)

  • 1 Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc (audio is listed on the box as 96kHz/24-bit – in both 2.0 PCM Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA)

  • 1 Video Blu-ray Disc (audio is listed on the box as 48 kHz/16 bit – in both 2.0 PCM Stereo and 5.0 Surround upmix DTS-HD MA)

  • Download code for obtaining high-resolution audio files (up to 192kHz/24-bit FLAC files)

  • 7-day ticket for Berliner Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall

  • 74 page booklet (in English and German) with track listings, brief notes on each symphony, 2 articles, a listing of orchestra musicians, and production details and credits

The video directors vary among the titles as follows:

  • Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, 4, & 7 – directed by Tilo Krause

  • Symphonies Nos. 2, 5, & 9 – directed by Andreas Morell

  • Symphonies Nos. 6 & 8 – directed by Torben Schmidt Jacobsen

The recording location was the Philharmonie Berlin. The booklet and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s archive concert listings both indicate that these works were performed on the following dates:

  • 6, 12 October 2015 (Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3) – Blu-ray Video Disc features the October 12 performance

  • 7, 13 October 2015 (Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5) – Blu-ray Video Disc features the October 13 performance

  • 3, 9, 15 October 2015 (Symphonies Nos. 4 & 7) – Blu-ray Video Disc features the October 15 performance

  • 8, 14 October 2015 (Symphonies Nos. 6 & 8 – performed in reverse order) – Blu-ray Video Disc features the October 14 performance

  • 10, 16 October 2015 (Symphony No. 9) – Blu-ray Video Disc features the October 16 performance

An option is included for Symphony No. 9 with subtitles in German, English, and Japanese. In addition, movement titles are shown on the screen for all works.

The Berliner Philharmoniker and Rundfunkchor

Sir Simon Rattle’s contract with the Berliner Philharmoniker expires in 2018, and he appears to be tackling recordings of a number of masterworks while he has the opportunity to work with these fine musicians. While the LSO is no slouch, the reputation of the Berliners is somewhat more auspicious! To quote Sir Simon from one of the disc’s special features, “When you have an orchestra like the Berlin Philharmonic, of course you have a huge advantage because of the basic personality of the orchestra . . . which is one of a colossal – almost superhuman – energy. And this, for Beethoven, is the very first thing you need, because otherwise he asks from you more than you can give.”

Beethoven’s symphonies have been well represented on HDVD, with reputable complete cycles by Thielemann, Jansons, and Fischer published in recent years. I own the Fischer/RCO set, and while I find his performances to be very compelling (folk-like elements, perhaps a more lighthearted conversational approach) . . . I have connected quite differently to Rattle’s Beethoven.

 

Click to read more ...

Monday
May022016

Sibelius Symphonies 1-7

Sibelius Symphonies 1-7 (or Complete Sibelius Symphonies) box set. Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker in all seven Sibelius symphonies. This review applies only to the Blu-ray video and not to the CDs or Blu-ray audio disc included in the box. Grade: C (average for the 7 symphonies). The box contains:

  • 4 CD’s (i.e. PCM 44.1kHz/16-bit)

  • 1 Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc (audio is listed on the box as 96kHz/24-bit – in both 2.0 PCM Stereo and 5.0 DTS-HD MA)

  • 1 Video Blu-ray Disc (audio is listed on the box as 48 kHz/16 bit – in both 2.0 PCM Stereo and 5.0 Surround upmix DTS-HD MA; however, my system indicates the audio tracks as 48kHz/24- bit – in 2.0 and 5.1)

  • Download code for obtaining high-resolution audio files (up to 192kHz/24-bit FLAC files)

  • 7-day ticket for Berliner Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall

  • 64 page booklet (in English and German) with track listings, brief notes on each symphony, 2 articles, a listing of orchestra musicians, and production details and credits

The video directors vary among the titles as follows:

  • Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 – directed by Daniel Finkernagel and Alexander Lück

  • Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 – directed by Michael Beyer

  • Symphonies Nos. 5, 6 & 7 – directed by Robert Gummlich

The recording location was the Philharmonie Berlin. The Berliner Philharmoniker’s archive concert listings indicate that these works were performed on the following dates:

  • 5 February 2015 (Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2)

  • 28-29 January 2015, 6 February 2015 (Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4)

  • 18-20 December 2014, 7 February 2015 (Symphony No. 5)

  • 7 February 2015 (Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7)

The 150th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth in 2015 resulted in an expanded selection of high-resolution videos of his works. In particular, the Lintu Sibelius Symphonies box (reviewed earlier this year on this site) re-opened my ears to the charms to be found in his music.

I find myself almost equally drawn to all 7 symphonies – there is not a dud in the crowd! They are approachable, tuneful, and emotionally involving without being saccharine. There is solid thematic development for the brain to follow, yet plenty to tempt a listener (namely, me!) to engage in heat-of-the-moment “arm-flapping” (home conducting) as I’m carried off by the music to a far-away place. This music, especially when accompanied by a concert video, inevitably provides me with a very satisfactory sensory experience!

Rattle’s musical interpretations with the Berliner Philharmoniker have been growing on me. The orchestra members are all so solid; their confidence and musicianship emanate brightly. I was fascinated throughout by the incredible unison of the strings, the warmth of the brass, and animated sparks from the woodwinds. You can see from the screenshots later in this review how brilliant the PQ is, and the SQ is also outstanding.

But as we have seen in many recently published symphony Blu-rays, there is a serious video content problem with the video recordings in this box. There is a special feature on the Blu-ray video disc that describes the extent of planning undertaken for the video production, including bar-by-bar analysis of the score. A lot of work went into making the videos. But the producers’ goals were faulty and out-of-date.

Even though the producers apparently never planned to publish the Sibelius recordings in DVD, they in fact diligently prepared DVD-style videos. It seems they were not aware that symphony videos for Blu-ray (or HDVD) presentation need to be made in a radically different manner (from DVDs) that takes advantage of the capabilities of HD video cameras. They forgot that a good DVD can't be a good HDVD, and a good HDVD can't be a good DVD. Because the videos were not correctly made, they suffer from what we call DVDitis.

For a thorough explanation of all this, see our special article Standards for Grading Symphony Orchestra Concerts of Symphonies, Concertos, and other Large-scale Compositions. After working you way through that article and some of the many reviews on this site discussing DVDitis, you will understand the following mantra:

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

And how do you know whether a particular video is an HDVD by virtue of a slow pace, a large number of supershots, and small number of condutor shots? Well, you grab a Wonk Worksheet, step your way through each clip in the recording, fill out the worksheet, and run the numbers. Then you can tell if your Blu-ray symphony recording is dead on arrival from DVDitis or is a modern and up-to-date HDVD. Click here to see a worksheet of Sibelius Symphony No. 3 played by the Berliner Philharmoniker and recorded by Michael Beyer.

I ran the numbers on 6 of the 7 symphonies in the Sibelius box. I graded each symphony. In accordance with HDVDarts.com protocol for grading Blu-ray concert performances, I started with an A+ grade. A partial grade deduction is applied for non-96/24 audio, bringing us to an A. Video throughout the set has good clarity (16:9, 1080/60i) and reasonably few errors (i.e. out-of-focus), so no further deduction is necessary for PQ. I then deducted a letter grade for each of the 3 tests in our mantra that a title flunks.

Following these rules, I prepared statistics for two titles from each of the three video directors, and here are the results:

Symphony   

1

2

3

4

5

7

Pace (s/clip)

7.4 s

7.2 s

6.6 s

7.8 s

7.1 s

6.9 s

Supershots

23 %

25 %

11 %

6.6 %

21 %

32 %

Conductor Shots

28 %

25 %

23 %

22 %

21 %

19 %

Grade

C

C

D

D

C

B

Comments

Panning and zooming with some focus issues

Many IO (11/18) and poorly framed shots

Only 1 IO shot between both symphonies

Director(s)

Finkernagel and Lück

Beyer

Gummlich

 

Let's see in more detail how I graded Symphony No. 3. The pace of 6.6 seconds per clip is almost twice as fast as the minimum pace for an HDVD. So S3 flunks the pace test---it's way too fast-paced for comfortable viewing in a modern HT. Supershots are only 11%. The vast majority of the video is geared for DVD consumption, and only 11% of the video takes advantage of the HD cameras. So S3 flunks the supershot test. Almost a quarter of the clips in the video just show Rattle, which is a hallmark of the DVD. So this S3 flunks the conductor test also. Since this video is a three-time loser, it drops 3 grades: from A to D. Finally, I blended all the grades for the 7 symphonies into a C grade for the entire box.

Now let's consider some screenshots taken at random from the 7 recordings. I personally enjoy watching the conductor. Others think watching the conductor is a waste of time.  I'll say that Rattle is especially interesting to watch, as you can see in the first 3 screenshots below. If you are conductorphobic, be aware that Rattle appears on average about twice in each minute of these Sibelius videos:

Everyone will agree that the next shot below is an excellent whole-orchestra ("WO") view. It allows you to see where all the orchestra sections are located and even to count the instruments in most sections. These are the kinds of HDVD shots that HD cameras can make, but which usually are not often feasible when making a DVD. Unfortunately, we don't see many shots like this in subject Sibelius box. For example, in video of Symphony No. 3, there are only 6 WO clips:

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Apr232016

Schumann Symphonies 1-4

Schumann Symphonies 1-4  or (Complete Schumann Symphonies) box set. In 2013, Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker in all four Schumann symphonies. Released in 2014, all the symphonies,  a bonus interview, and audio tracks recorded at 96kHz/24-bit are on a Blu-ray disc with 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Also in the package are two CDs, a download code for other audio files, and a digital concert ticket. Grade: Help!

Click on the "Presto" button below to buy this from Presto.

Saturday
Apr232016

St. John Passion

Bach St. John Passion oratorio. Ritualised (directed) 2014 by Peter Sellers at the Philharmonie in Berlin. Stars tenor Mark Padmore (Evangelist), baritone Christian Gerhaher (Pilatus/Petrus), baritone Roderick Williams (Jesus), soprano Camilla Tilling, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, tenor Topi Lehtipuu (Arias), and bass Thomas Quasthoff. Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Rundfunkchor Berlin (Chorus Master Simon Halsey).  Music has runtime of 135 minutes and there is a 52-minute bonus extra with Peter Sellers in conversation with Simon Rattle.  Directed for video by Daniel Finkerhagel and Alexander Lück.  Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Package also has 2 DVDs, an extensive booklet, and a 7-day digital concert voucher.   Grade: Help!

Click on the "Presto" button below to buy this from Presto.

Tuesday
Apr122016

Abbado Last Berlin Concert

Claudio Abbado conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker for the last time. Recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie on 18, 19, and 21 May 2013. Two works are featured:

  1. Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (excerpts). Soloists are Deborah York (soprano), Stella Doufexis (mezzo-soprano). Chorus is comprised of women of the Chors des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Bavarian Radio Chorus).

  2. Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique

Released 2016, the main feature for us is the Blu-ray video of the entire concert. The concert can also be played as a Blu-ray audio music recording. All Blu-ray music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling, and the disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output (literature from publisher incorrectly states that sound is 5.0). In addition to the Blu-ray disc, there is a CD of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a separate CD of the Symphonie fantastique. There is also a bonus documentary video.  All this is included in an extravagant box set with a 56-page booklet of program notes and an article with numerous photographs honoring Claudio Abbado. Purchase of the box includes a 7-day ticket for the Berliner Philharmoniker’s video streaming service (“Digital Concert Hall”), and a download code for 48kHz/24 audio files of the performance (which the Berlin folks call "high resolution" files). Video Directors are listed as Daniel Finkernagal and Alexander Lück. No DVD version of this title is available. Could this be a sign that the age of DVD is about over?

Grade: B- for the Mendelssohn and B for the Belioz

-----

Abbado was the chief conductor of the Berliner Philhamoniker from 1990 to 2002. He was ill for a long time, but he continued working as long as he could. He died eight months after making this recording. (This was not Abbado's last recorded concert. Four months before his death, Abbabo made a last video recording with his Lucerne Festival Orchestra. You might also be interested in the Abbado Memorial Concert recorded by Andris Nelsons and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra a few months after Abbado died. )

Abbado was loved for his gracious and humble demeanor. He was also revered for his courage in working through the pain of his illness. At his final concerts, everyone attended rapt in awe, and they trailed in his wake as he led his own funeral cortège.  The photo below is probably his last portrait with the Berliner Philharmoniker: 

 

SQ & PQ

As you might expect for a recording by this famous  orchestra in its home port, SQ is generally fine. But I'll mention several quirks just in case you are picky about such things. Playing the video, I hear some some odd, repetitive “pop” noises near the beginning of the last movement of Midsummer Night’s Dream and again at 41:46 (as the piece reaches its quiet conclusion). Each time the sounds last for about 15 seconds. I found these extraneous sounds to be more prominent in the 2.0 audio track than the 5.1, and they were much more present through headphones than through my speakers. On the plus side, I was not able to replicate the noises on the Blu-ray audio track, or in the high-resolution FLAC download audio files.

Picture resolution is also excellent throughout. There are a couple of instances in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where an image is taken from a camera while it is in the process of adjusting to the light in the hall (e.g. 36:21 / 36:22). The 2 images below are taken within a span of less than a second. When watching the video, this creates a noticeable visual “blip” (a flash of darkness relative to the images on either side):

 

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I grew up with many Abbado recordings, which might influence what “sounds right” to me.  While I did not find anything particularly revolutionary or revelationary in this performance, it was certainly enjoyable. At the opening, pizzicati dancing through the lower strings evokes the atmosphere of excited fairies flittering through the night. Emmanuel Pahud’s flute solo at the end of the Scherzo is a highlight – very characterful and appropriately highlighted. The Notturno is taken at a relaxed yet flowing tempo.  However, to my ears the first horn makes the music sound difficult – I longed for more legato and lushness of tone.

Even though this concert was not published in DVD form, old habits die hard. We must therefore be on the lookout for symptoms of DVDitis in the video content. I ran the numbers.  There are 40 minutes, seven seconds of music divided into 290 video clips. This yields a pace of 8.3 seconds per clip.

Here is a breakdown of the video clips in this recording of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Conductor clips = 54
C/B clips = 13
Weak soloist clips = 3
*Realistic soloists clips = 9
Solos, small section, small group clips = 150
*Large section, large group clips = 42
*Part orchestra clips = 9
*Whole orchestra clips = 9 (but some while the orchestra was at rest)
Instrument only clips = 1
Other low value = 1 (anthill shot)

There are 69 "supershots" (add up the * numbers above of 42+9+9+9). So the supershots are 24% of the total clips. Conductor shots total 67 (54+13), and conductor shots claim 23% of the film (67/290).

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 than 20% of the clips in the video. 

Subject video flunks the pace test. It passes the supershot test, but only barely considering that some of the whole-instrument shots were of the orchestra at rest. The rule-of-thumb would say that there were too many conductor shots. But the rule-of-heart says that we cut some slack for the videographer in featuring Abbado in his last performance at the Philharmonie.

As to a grade, I reduce the A+ to A for lack of 96kHz/24 bit sound sampling. I reduce the grade to B for excessive pace. For weakness in supershots and the technical glitches noted I reduct the grade to it's final resting place of B-.

Now for some screenshots from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I start below with a beautiful, clear whole-orchestra shot that also shows the soloists and choir:

 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Oct082013

Die Zauberflöte

Mozart Die Zauberflöte opera to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. Directed 2013 by Robert Carsen at the Baden-Baden Easter Festival. Stars Pavol Breslik (Tamino), Kate Royal (Pamina), Dimitry Ivashchenko (Sarastro), Ana Durlovski (Queen of the Night), Michael Nagy (Papageno), Regula Mühlemann (Papagena), Annick Massis (1st Lady), Magdalena Kožená (2nd Lady), Nathalie Stutzmann (3rd Lady), José van Dam (Speaker), James Elliott (Monostatos), Andreas Schager (1st Priest), Jonathan Lemalu (Second Priest), Benjamin Hulett (1st Armoured Man), David Jerusalem (2nd Armoured Man) as well as David Rother, Cedric Schmitt, and Joshua Augustin, all soloists of the Aurelius Sängerknaben Calw (Three Boys). Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Rundfunkchor Berlin (Chorus Master Simon Halsey). Sets by Michael Levine; costumes by Petra Reinhardt; lighting by Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet; visuals by Martin Eidenberger; dramatury by Ian Burton; directed for TV by Olivier Simonnet. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Richard Lawrence, writing for Gramophone (December 2013, page 101) generally praises this production while warning us that director Carsen can't resist tinkering with the plot (making, for example, the Queen of the Night into an ally of Sarastro). Later, Opera News calls this one of the 5 best opera Blu-rays they reviewed in 2014. (January 2015, at page 51)

We think the screenshots we use in our reviews are state-of-the-art for amateurs working  weekends. But the PR folks for the Berlin Phil have given us some screenshots that show how good they can look even when reduced to 800 horizontal pixals to fit our website. So we offer you some PR artwork until we can do a full review of this title.

Here's Tamino, Papageno, and the Three Ladies:

 Papageno close-in (this shot is also on the keepcase back):

Instead of wine and bread, Papageno gets water and a stone:

Tamino's vision of Pamina:

Blindfolded, Tamino undergoes a trial: 

We know of three sources to buy this: (1) the Berlin Philharmonic store (in Berlin or via their website) (2) Presto Recordings in the UK, and (3) amazon.de.

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

Tuesday
Jun052012

St. Matthew Passion

Bach St. Matthew Passion oratorio. Ritualised (directed) 2010 by Peter Sellers at the Philharmonie in Berlin. Stars tenor Mark Padmore (Evangelist), bass Christian Gerhaher (Jesus), soprano Camilla Tilling, contralto Magdalena Kozena, tenor Topi Lehtipuu, and bass Thomas Quasthoff. Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Rundfunkchor Berlin (Chorus Master Simon Halsey), and the Knaben des Staats und Domchors Berlin (Chorus Master Kai-Kwe Jirka). Music has runtime of 195 minutes and there is a 51-minute bonus extra with Peter Sellers in conversation with Simon Halsey.  Directed for video by Daniel Finkerhagel and Alexander Lück.  Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Package also has 2 DVDs and 7-day digital concert hass voucher.   Grade: Help!

Matthew Gurewitsch reports in the August 2012 Opera News (page 60) that Simon Rattle himself calls the performance recorded here "the single most important thing we ever did here."

Click on the "Presto" button below to buy this from Presto.