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.

___________________________________________________________________________

Entries in EuroArts (121)

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!

Friday
Jan122018

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:

 

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jan072018

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:

 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jan022018

2017 New Year's Concert a/k/a Silversterkonzert 

2017 New Year's Concert a/k/a Silversterkonzert by the Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic) conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonie. Features mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Here is the program:

1. Antonín Dvořák Carnival Overture
2. Igor Stravinsky "Pas de deux" from Apollon musagète
3. Richard Strauss Zueignung (orch. by Robert Heger) with Joyce DiDonato
4. Richard Strauss Wiegenlied with Joyce DiDonato
5. Richard Strauss Müttertändelei with Joyce DiDonato
6. Richard Strauss Morgen with Joyce DiDonato
7. Richard Strauss Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland with Joyce DiDonato
8. Leonard Bernstein, 3 Dance Episodes from On the Town
9. Leonard Bernstein, "Take Care of this House" from the White House Cantata with Joyce DiDonato
10. Dmitri Shostakovich Suite from The Golden Age

Released 2018, the disc has 5.1 dts sound. Grade: Help!

What a relief to get something other than waltzes and fast polkas with which to celebrate! Please help us with a comment about this disc!

Here's an official trailer:

Saturday
Dec232017

Tosca

Puccini Tosca opera to libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Directed 2017 by Philipp Himmelmann (apparently replacing director Bartlett Sher on short notice) at the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden. Stars Kristine Opolais (Tosca), Marcelo Álvarez Mario (Cavaradossi), Marco Vratogna (Baron Scarpia), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Cesare Angelotti), Peter Rose (Il Sagrestano), Peter Tantsits (Spoletta), Douglas Williams (Sciarrone), Philippe Tsouli (a Boy), and Walter Fink (the Jailer). Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Philharmonia Chor Wien (Chorus Masters Walter Zeh), and Cantus Juvenum Karlsruhe (Chorus Master Anette Schneider). Set design by Raimund Bauer; costume design by Kathi Maurer; lighting by Reinhard Traub; video designs by Martin Eidenberger. Executive Producer was Alexander Pereira. Directed for TV by Andres Morell. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: F+

When I first saw (in EuroArts PR) the front cover above with Opolais staring out in horror, I thought, "Great! Tosca as a modern thriller, maybe set in Fascist Italy." I remembered the Bertolucci movie The Conformist. Wrong. Subject Tosca is set in a futuristic total-surveillance state.  Now putting Tosca in the time of Big Brother is perhaps not a bad idea. But it would require a lot of work and money to build convincing sets, design costumes for the future, and also an expensive rewrite the libretto to get rid of cannons, Napoleon, hiding in wells, firing squads, and the like. It appears subject Tosca was originally to be directed by Bartlett Sher, but Phillip Himmelmann was brought in to replace Sher on short notice. Getting a new opera director in the door as an emergency hire sounds really dangerous!

Well, Himmelmann had some experience to fall back on. As you can see from the first screenshot below, he did an unusual Tosca in 2007 at Bregenz:

Maybe it was the big eye at Bregenz that gave Himmelmann the idea for his surveillance state at Baden-Baden. Next below is a picture the audience at Baden-Baden never saw, but Andreas Morell included it in his film. Subject Tosca opens in a Catholic church, but it's an unusual Catholic church. The Christian cross has been replaced by a monumental double circle structure, which is the Unity Logo of the Unity Cult (my terms) that has taken over society. The Unity Logo might reminds one of an eye, or a camera lens, the business end of a pistol, or the sacred unity of a people---all things that one might encounter in a future dictatorship:

So far so good. Himmelmann sent in his carpenter and seamstress. But from here on things start to fall apart, and one gets the impression this may have been the only opera in history that was directed by email.  Next below we see the church Sacristan (Peter Rose) and "the boy." In the libretto, the boy is the shepherd who sings a sad solo in the "Puccini interlude" or prelude to Act III.  (The shepherd is tending his sheep on the meadows that still existed in the heart of Rome in 1800.) Himmelmann promotes the boy to a larger (but mostly mute) role as assistant or apprentice to the painter Cavaradossi. But what 12-year-old boy who works for a painter will always looks so clean and be dressed in such sharp clothes? In the image below, the Sacristan is showing an inappropriate degree of interest in the youngster. Apparently the Unity Cult encourages sex with children---bad hombres!

Now we must deal with Marcelo Álvarez as Cavaradossi. Álvarez has been around for a long time, knows the business well, and is still a fine singer. He will probably serve well in roles like Cavaradossi for more years to come on stages in big opera houses. But this guy, with his big belly, bulbous nose, and tendency to make goofy faces, can't be a leading man in a Blu-ray opposite a woman as young and gorgeous as Kristine Opolais. It's out of the question, as you will soon see. And where did they get Marcelo's shirt below?

The church scene in the opening screenshot above is the ugliest and most poorly designed set I can remember. Nothing about it makes any sense. What is a picture of Madonna (who looks like a model for eye makeup) doing in the church of the Unity Cult? Why is the artist using such shabby and primitive tools to paint a huge mural-like poster? And why is the painting on the floor where nobody in the live audience can see it? There are 3 different images of Cavaradossi's painting in the two screenshots below. Why are the images all different, and why is one projected on a wall above the door in this otherwise bare building? And will painters in the future use cheap SD TV sets to monitor their work?

 

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Nov042017

Beethoven Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 (Karajan Memorial Concert)

Beethoven Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6---Herbert von Karajan Memorial Concert. Seiji Osawa conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in 2008 at the Großer Muzikvereinssaal in Vienna to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Herbert von Karajan:

1. Anne-Sophie Mutter is soloist in the Beethoven Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

2. As encore, Mutter plays the Bach Partita for Solo Violin No. 2 

3. Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"

Produced by Michael Heinzl; video direction by Agnes Méth; director of photography was Alexander Stangl; video editing by Gernot Arendt; sound recording by Gregor Hornacek; sound editing by Florian Camerer. Released  2008,  disc has 5.1 PCM sound. For Beethoven  Grade: A-     For Tchaikovsky  Grade: B

Beethoven Violin Concerto

When this disc first came out in 2009 (almost 9 years ago) both Gordon Smith and I were both swept away. Here's Gordon's review of Mutter's performance at the time:

We have all enjoyed Beethoven's Violin Concerto many times live, on CD, and perhaps on TV or on DVD. But this performance, with all the glory of HDVD sound and vision, is a whole new experience! Not only does the Berlin Philharmonic play with the poise and ensemble of a chamber group, but Seiji Ozawa coaxes the most expressive phrasing out of them, surpassed only by Anne-Sophie Mutter herself.

And with Mutter's phrasing and expression, she brings a whole new reading and meaning to this war horse. HDVD makes the experience more immediate than ever before. The extreme close-ups of the violin and Mutter's finger work gives us a real "violinist's view" of the piece. You can't get this intimate relationship with the music and the process of playing it with a CD recording or even at a live performance! Well, maybe if you could come up with a ticket on the front row you could see Mutter about as well, but even then you would miss all the individual contributions from the orchestral players which are brought out so expertly in this video.

To see a work like this, with performers of this calibre, in such a way, is a unique privilege to savour again and again---which you can now do in your own home theatre. This recording is a monument and a worthy tribute to Herbert Von Karajan. He was a pioneer of televised concerts. He would certainly admire this production.  Gordon Smith, of Opera Dou.

Since 2009, hundreds of symphony titles, including many violin concertos, have been published in Blu-ray. We have worked up standards for reviewing these recordings. We also have developed the Wonk Worksheet and Instructions for the Wonk Worksheet. So it's time for an update. But before I get into statistics, let's enjoy some screenshots. Every Blu-ray recording of a symphony piece should start with whole orchestra (WO) shots to help the viewer see where the various musicians are located on the stage. Next below is a decent initial WO shot. By today's standards, the resolution is soft; fortunately, the Golden Hall has good risers to show off a symphony orchestra:

The next 3 shots below are what we call "realistic views" of the violin soloist:

You would have to have a front-center seat in the hall to have this view live. As long as the video image shows the waist and up of the violinist, we call this realistic:

The next view below is not realistic since nobody in the audience could see it. The Golden Hall is a cramped space and this inspires videographers to try a lot of shots from the rear and side:

This next view is also not realistic:

So what about this next shot below? Well, it's way to close to be seen by a member of the audience. But shots that clearly show the bowing and fingering of the violin have an irresistable appeal to viewers in the home theater. So we acknowlege these as "high-value" views and count them also as realistic:

 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct192017

András Schiff Plays Bach

András Schiff plays from J.S. Bach:

1. French Suites 1-6

2. Overture in the French Style in B minor

3. Italian Concerto in F major

This was recorded 2010 in a church in Leipzig. Directed by János Darvas; produced by Isabel Iturriagagoitia Bueno. Has a nice bonus interview with Schiff. Released in 2011, has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

András Schiff, a famous pianist and conductor, plays the six French Suites, the Overture in the French Style, and the Italian Concerto as an encore. You get your money's worth here with 2 and 1/4 hours of music plus a nice bonus visit with the soloist.

It's an article of faith on this website that seeing a performance is always better than just hearing it. Schiff is a self-effacing performer, and makes absolutely no attempt to "add value" thru his manner or personality. These Bach pieces tend to be quiet and not musically "spectacular." So does seeing this on a 65" TV screen add much? Well, not being a Bach fan, I find that the video helps me "hang in" with J.S. And I see that the audience is grimly determined to stick it out with nobody even once yawning or nodding off to sleep----they know they are on camera!

The great thing about a home theater is I can watch Bach for 45 minutes, and then switch to something else. Or if I just want some background music, there's no harm in listening to this with the video off in my office or car. Now if you happen to be a Bach fan who enjoys listening to 8 complete piano suites in a row, I think the video will add extra delight! Or you can always close your eyes from time to time. Or read some magazines while the title plays out.

SQ and PQ are both excellent throughout (the pictures in the HT are much nicer than the screenshots below). There are generally 4 types of shots that are cycled throughout the recording. Each shot is on average 10-15 seconds long, though there are outliers. The first below is a side view with a glimpse of the audience (you can see details like the audience quite well in the HT):

Below is a close up of Schiff's hands as he plays. This is the most common of the shots. Student Bach players might pick up fingering tips from this:

Another of the shots used is a close up of Schiff's face.

The final shot is directly over the piano:

I've enjoyed  a lot of piano music live, in audio records, and in video. Even though I'm not a Bach fan, I don't think anyone could play this music better than Schiff. Now for a grade. Start with A+. Both SQ and PQ are excellent. But this is not an audiophile recording.  48kHz/24-bit sound sampling was used, so I drop the grade to A for lack of 96kHz/24-bit sampling. If you are a Bach fan or aspire to be, this a good value at regular price.

Here is a Youtube trailer:

 

Thursday
Sep282017

Legends of the Rhine

The Berliner Philharmoniker Legends of the Rhine concert has the following pieces:

1. Schumann Symphony No. 3
2. Wagner "Einzug der Götter in Walhall" (from Das Rheingold)
3. Wagner "Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt (from Götterdammerung)
4. Wagner "Funeral March" (from Götterdammerung)
5. Wagner "Waldweben" (from Siegfried)
6. Wagner "Walkürenritt" (from Die Walküre)
7. Wagner "Isoldes Liebestod" (from Triston und Isolde)
8. Wagner "Prelude 3 Act" (from Lohengrin)

Since 1983, the Berliner Philharmoniker has each year given a summer concert at the Waldbühne (Forest Stage) located in a popular Berlin park. The crowd dresses informally, but the musical fare is more formal than a pops concert. In 2017, the guest conductor was Gustavo Dudamel. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

Here is a clip from this disc:

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

Thursday
Sep212017

Beethoven Symphony No. 2 and Symphony No. 7

Seiji Ozawa conducts the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Beethoven Symphony No. 2 and Beethoven Symphony No. 7 at the Ozawa Matsumoto Festival. Symphony No. 2 was performed 2015 and directed for TV by Mari Inamasu. Symphony No. 7 was performed 2016 and directed for TV by Yo Asari. The Beethoven Choral Fantasy is a bonus extra with the Saito Kinen Orchestra, the Matsumoto Festival Chorus, Martha Argerich (piano), Lydia Teuscher and Rie Miyake (sopranos), Nathalie Stutzmann (alto), Kei Fukui and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenors), and Matthias Goerne (baritone). Only the 2 symphonies are reviewed here. Reviewed music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Released in 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+ blended grade. See below for grades for each symphony recording.

Readers of this website know about our relentless battle against the dread disease DVDitis. We were in part inspired to combat DVDitis by a series of wonderful symphony concerts recorded around 2008 mostly by Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Ochestra. These recordings were engineered by NHK (the Japanese National Broadcasting Company), and they demonstrate the high quality that can be achieved by shooting a symphony orchestra in a manner that takes full advantage of HD cameras.

Unfortunately, the recording industry did not follow the example set by Ozawa and NHK. Instead the industry continued to shoot symphony recordings as DVD titles. Then the DVD recordings were republished in Blu-ray format as an extra profit center. This practice was understandable, because at that time there were more customers for DVD than for Blu-ray discs. But now we have several hundred Blu-ray discs published in recent years by many recording firms that are obsolete and dead-on-arrival from DVDitis.

So as far as symphony recordings are concerned, we are now (September 2017) starting from scratch with little (other than the NHK recordings mentioned above) to be proud of. We take hope, however, from the fact that the market is finally shifting away from DVD to 2K and 4K HD displays. When this shift is recognized, the recording companies will start making (we hope and predict) modern symphony recordings.

Now back to the recordings on the subject disc. Were these recordings made from the beginning to take advantage of HD video? Or are they just more victims of DVDitis? Alas, we see that they are not as good as the NHK demo discs we admire so much. But they are steps in the right direction.

Symphony No. 2

Let's look first at Symphony No. 2 recorded in 2015. I'm not going fire my full Gatling gun of statistics today---for all the details, please consult my Symphony No. 2 Wonk Worksheet. For more background information on DVDitis, see our special article describing the dread disease. My opening screenshot is of my favorite musician of all time, the Saito Kinen blind first violinist, who is being helped up on the riser by a colleague. (If you know this gentleman's name, please let me know.)

The good HDVD of a symphony concert will have plenty of large-scale shots of the entire orchestra. Next below is a head-on shot that's pretty good. But the angle is a bit low and a couple of players are not shown on the left:

The next angle below is impressive. Everybody is on board, and you can see quite well where the different sections of the band are located. On the right are 8 violas, 6 cellos, and 3 basses. All the violins are massed on the left front, and it's pretty easy to spot all the winds. Believe it or not, in many DVD-style videos we have reviewed you will not find a single clip of this fine quality:

Part-orchestra shots like the next image below help us see better the various large sections:

And next below is one of many multi-section views. All told, there are 50 large-scale shots in this 34 minute recording, which is a goodly number that distinguishes this recording from the vast majority of Blu-ray symphony discs published so far:

There are also 82 clips of smaller forces. My favorite of these would be the four violas seen next below.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Sep152017

Dvořák Requiem

Dvořák Requiem. In 2014 Philipe Herreweghe conducts the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and the Collegium Vocale Gent in a performance of Dvořák's Requiem.  Features soprano Ilse Eerens, alto Bernarda Fink, tenor Maximilian Schmitt, and bass Nathan Berg. Directed for video by Leonid Adamopoulos. Released 2017, disc has dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: B+

Herreweghe, the Collegium Vocale Gent, and Leonid Adamopoulos teamed up in 2012 to give us a warm, beautiful Bach Christmas Oratorio, that we graded B+, which is a good grade on this website. I'm happy to report that this Requiem is a breathtaking performance, extremely nuanced and professional on all counts, that Herreweghe leads with intensity and focus. The orchestral and choral sounds are ravishing, with the woodwinds coming through especially well.  I was also impressed by the strong soloists and the choir's balance. The conclusion of the Sanctus is especially thrilling.

Now to some screenshots. The video is very clear thanks in part to bright lighting in the concert hall. But the forces used for this performance are huge! You would probably need 4K resolution to get clear shots of all the performers in a single image. The image next below qualifies as a whole-orchestra shot; but at this range it's really hard to distinguish the various instruments:

The large forces on the stage doubtless contributed to the decision to shoot the video DVD style. But as you see below, there are at least a few large-scale, part-orchestras shots that help the viewer get properly oriented to where the sections of the orchestra are located:

And there are some nice section shots like we see next below --- first the cellos and then the second violins:

Here's a good view of most of the chorus:

And next below is a realistic view of the 4 soloists in their environment:

 

Click to read more ...

Page 1 2 3 4 5 ... 13