Titles by Category

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.

December 2. I just posted a review of the 2016 Royal Ballet Nutcracker. We have on our Alphalist a thorough rundown and grade on each of the 10 Nutcracker Blu-rays you could order for a Christmas present!

I just updated and added screenshots to the Priory title The Grand Organ of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Finally we have reported on all 5 of the Priory organ Blu-rays. These exemplary recordings include a Blu-ray video, a DVD video, and a CD! Each of these titles has a fine program of organ music played by virtuoso musicians. In addition, there are fabulous bonus extras with information about the cathedrals, the towns where they are located, the details of each organ instrument, and a discussion of each selection that is played in the recital. Never before was so much value in recordings conveyed for such a modest price.  To see information on all these Priory titles, just go to the left navigation bar and click on "Priory" under "Titles by Publisher." Then all 5 Priory stories will be instantly produced for your enjoyment! _______________________________________________________________________________

Entries in EuroArts (119)

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 ...

Monday
Sep112017

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 Floria (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 (Un carceriere). Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Philharmonia Chor Wien (Chorus Masters Walter Zeh) and  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: Help!

Monday
Sep112017

La Grande Danza

La Grande Danza: Aterballetto dance compilation. Triple bill of dances performed 2017 by the Aterballeto Dance Company at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. All performances directed for TV by Andreas Morell. The dances are as follows:

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: Help!

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

Here is a short clip of Narcissus which shows some of OOOPStudio's projected video work:

Wednesday
Aug092017

Dvořák Symphony No. 8

2017 Europakonzert: Mariss Jansons conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker this year in its traditional "Europakonzert" on May 1 celebrating the founding of the orchestra on May Day. Normally, this event occurs in a different European city in a beautiful venue of historical significance. For 2017, the concert was held outdoors in front of the main Byzantine castle at Paphos, Cyprus. Features clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer. Directed for TV by Henning Kasten. Here's the program:

1. Weber, Overture to Oberon

2. Weber, Clarinet Concerto No. 1 (Andreas Ottensamer)

3. Koncz, Hungarian Fantasy on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

4. Dvořák, Symphony No. 8 

5. Brahms, Hungarian Dance No. 5

Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound, with "high resolution" audio, i.e. 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Grade: Help!

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

Friday
Jun232017

Die Liebe der Danae

Richard Strauss Die Liebe der Danae opera to libretto by Joseph Gregor after Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Directed 2016 by Alvis Hermanis at the Salzburg Festival. Stars Krassimira Stoyanova (Danae), Tomasz Konieczny (Jupiter), Norbert Ernst (Merkur), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Pollux), Regine Hangler (Xanthe), Gerhard Siegel (Midas alias Chrysopher), Pavel Kolgatin, Andi Früh, Ryan Speedo Green, and Jongmin Park (Four Kings), Mária Celeng (Semele), Olga Bezsmertna (Europa), Michaela Selinger (Alkmene), and Jennifer Johnston (Leda). Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor (Chorus Master Ernst Raffelsberger). Set design by Alvis Hermanis; costume design by Juozas Statkevičius; choreography by Alla Sigalova; lighting design by Gleb Filshtinsky; dramatic advisor was Ronny Dietrich; video design by Ineta Sipunova, Directed for TV by Agnes Méth. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Grade: Help!

Here's an official clip which looks great!

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

 

Friday
Jun232017

Faust

Charles Gounod Faust opera to libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. Directed 2016 by Reinhard von der Thannen at the Salzburger Festival. Stars Piotr Beczała (Faust), Ildar Abdrazakov (Méphistophélès), Maria Agresta (Marguerite), Alexey Markov (Valentin), Tara Erraught (Siébel), Paolo Rumetz (Wagner), and Marie-Ange Todorovitch (Marthe). Alejo Pérez conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Philharmonia Chor Vienna (Chorus Master Walter Zeh). Set design by Reinhard von der Thannen; choreography by Giorgio Madia; lighting design by Franck Evin; dramatic advisor was Birgit von der Thannen. Directed for TV by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Grade: Help!

David J. Baker, writing in the November 2017 Opera News at page 55 states, "Riddles and symbolic props dominate the production." But he goes on to opine that the conductor and the singers "prove the viability of Gounod's score despite its overfamiliarity and somewhat mushy piety---and any directorial pranks." How's that for climbing up on the fence?

Here's an official trailer:

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

 

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