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 Ideale Audience (11)

Thursday
Oct222015

Strauss Metamorphosen, Strauss Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme & Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major. 

Strauss & Ravel Concert. Vladimir Jurowski conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in 2009 in the Richard Strauss Metamorphosen and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Hélène Grimaud joins as soloist in the Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major. TV direction by Louise Narboni; produced by Pierre-Martin Juban. Released 2010, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grades: A- for the Ravel and B- for the two Strauss pieces.

I reviewed this title about 5 years ago when it first came out. Hélène Grimaud recently played the Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major in Dallas with the DSO, so I thought I would review this again and add screenshots.

This disc has three 20th-century masterpieces for orchestra that avoid the dissonance and harshness that is controversial in much modern music. First comes the Strauss Metamorphosen for 23 strings, which consists of 26 minutes of lamentations over the destruction of German honour and culture by the rise and fall of National Socialism. Next up is the jazz-influenced Piano Concerto in G Major by Ravel (the one for two hands).  The happiest piece is the last--- Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme from Strauss. (Grimaud does not play the piano part in Gentilhomme.)  Gentilhomme  is perhaps a bit out of character for Strauss because it is neoclassical and jolly. But there is no lack of brilliant orchestration with frightful difficulties for the exposed soloists in the small Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

Metamorphosen

Let's review and grade each piece separately starting with Metamorphosen. Below Jurowski just walked on stage at the beginning of the concert. We like to start off with whole-orchestra video images to help us get oriented as to whom is playing. But here we are off to a bad start with the video because this is not a whole-orchestra shot. It's a shot of a small group of people on a big, half-empty stage:

But soon we do get the whole-orchestra shot seen next below. Alas, the video resolution here is only slightly better than a DVD. Still, one could have made a decent video of this Metamorphosen by locking the camera in this position for 26 minutes. That's not what we would want, but it would have been better than what Louise Narboni in fact gives us:

Metamorphosen is a dirge-like statement of mourning with most of the players engaged most of the time in slow massive blocks of anguished sound. It's the opposite of the stereotype Strauss style with a rapid progression of brilliant solos and small ensemble statements often representing the many strange characters that Strauss so loved to depict. So this video should use long-range or medium-range views to show us big groups of players, and each video clip should last as long a reasonable possible. But what we get is a multitude of short clips of soloists or small groups of players. For example, there are six cellos, but in the shot below we only see three. Why not the whole cello section? I feel we have here a small-scale but exasperating case of DVDitis, the disease we normally associate with HDVDs of full symphony orchestra recordings:

Here's a typical shot of a solo by the concertmaster. This view also illustrates a problem with lighting and color balance in the video. It seems the TV director put the audience and the stage outside the proscenium arch in almost total darkness while the stage is brightly lit (maybe too brightly). Somehow the colors are out of kilter. Many of the faces of the musicians seem strangely ruddy, bleached, gray, or shiny. (This is one of those discs that looks better on my computer monitor than in my home theater on my big, calibrated plasma display.)

There are a few shots that show what's really going on such as this view of the almost all of the violins:

And here, at rest, are all the violins. This proves the TV director could have made an excellent video of this performance. But once a TV director has the virus of DVDitis in his or her veins, it's hard to stamp it out in favor of a better-quality HDVD video:

This performance of Metamorphosen is gripping. SQ, recording balance, and dynamics are excellent. There are many recordings of this on CD, but subject title is the only HD video available and is probably competitive with the best of the CDs. So you could buy this just to listen. But when both picture quality and picture content are poor, the best grade I can give this is "C+."

 

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Monday
Sep292014

Martha Argerich Evening Talks

Martha Argerich Evening Talks documentary film by Georges Gachot from 2002. This film explores the life and work of pianist Martha Argerich. Released 2014, disc claims 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

This documentary was made in 2002 and was successful as a DVD that came out in 2008. It has, of course, a lot of old SD video of legacy material. The DVD has Dolby Digital surround sound. The question is whether the 2002 film will benefit from re-release in Blu-ray or whether the better thing is to just buy the DVD.  Please help us by writing a comment that we can place here as a mini-review of this title.

Monday
Mar172014

St. Matthew Passion

Bach St. Matthew Passion oratorio. The video recording was directed 2011 by Louise Narboni at the Basilica Cathedral Saint-Denis, Paris. Solosist are Werner Güra (Evangelist), Stephen Morscheck (Jesus), Lucy Crowe (soprano), Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor), Matthew Brook (bass) and Bertrand Grunenwald (bass). John Nelson conducts the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, Schola Cantorum of Oxford, and the Maîtrise de Paris. Includes a 52-minute documentary extra called John Nelson's Saint Matthew Passion---The Journey, also directed by Narboni, as well as information about Soli Deo Gloria. Released 2014, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. 

The 43-person Orchestre de Chambre de Paris (Paris Chamber Orchestra) is a leading French chamber group. The current President of the orchestra is Brigitte Lefèvre, who is also the Director of the Paris Opera Ballet. John Nelson is currently Honorary Music Director of the orchestra. The Schola Cantorum of Oxford is a famous 30-person chamber choir directed by James Burton, most of the members of which are college students at Oxford. The Maîtrise de Paris is a famous French choir for young women directed by Patrick Marco.

Soli Deo Gloria, a U.S. charity that promotes sacred music performances and recordings all over the world, recruited all these forces. Assuming the artists got enough rehearsal time, the result could be a fabulous performance and recording. 

Grade: Help!

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

 

Tuesday
Oct082013

Bloody Daughter

Bloody Daughter documentary by Stéphanie Argerich. The film examines the professional and private lives of famous pianists Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich (the filmmaker's parents). The documentary includes as a bonus performances by Martha Argerich of:

1. Chopin Concerto for Piano No. 1

2. Chopin Mazurka Op. 24, No. 2

3. Schumann Phantasiestücke Op. 12, No. 7 "Traumes Wirren"

Camera by Stéphanie Argerich and Luc Peter; sound by Marc Von Stürller; produced by Pierre-Olivier Bardet. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.

Grade: Help!

This documentary has a strange title, and the limited information we now have suggests semi-pro quality. But, on the other hand, it's about 2 legendary piano artists, and my favorite piano recording of all time is by Stephen Kovacevich.  Stéphanie obviously has had unique access to the subject, so I can't resist getting  this title in my next record buy. But if you've seen this, please help out by writing a comment that we can use as a mini-review of this title.

Tuesday
Feb052013

Beethoven Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 7.

Beethoven Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 7. Recorded 2010 live at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Vladmir Jurowski conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Program also includes the Coriolan Overture. Directed for TV by Olivier Simonnet. Released  2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D+ 

I know a wealthy man who prefers to drive around in an old pick-up truck rather than in his new Rolls Royce. So I can understand why some folks enjoy the period-instrument sound (flat, thin, lean, clean, and revealing) as an alternate to the modern orchestra.  Richard Lawrence in the October 2011 Gramophone reports (page 102) that he saw this on DVD. He loved the music, but suggested that listener "throw a blanket over the screen." I showed this title to the OperaDou Jury in Nîmes as an example of bad video; I was surprised when sophisticated folks on the jury defended the title because they liked the sound and enjoyed seeing those long trumpets and strange horns. So I conclude that the performance and the recording of the music is good even if 96kHz/24 bit sound sampling was not used.

But, alas, the video on this recording is an atrocity that is hard to excuse for a project done in 2010.

The light in the dingy looking Théâtre des Champs-Elysées was dim. The camera crew didn't seem to have a clue what to do. PQ is bad with grainy images and fuzzy resolution throughout.  Colors are grayed out at the same time that there is glare on the players' sheet music.

But the real killer is miserable picture content, and this disc might be used to illustrate a lecture on "All the Ways to Violate Huang's Law for a Good HDVD of a Symphony."

I made detailed notes on the opening segment, the Coriolan Overture, which lasts 7:49 minutes. Even though the overture opens the show, there is no shot of the whole orchestra during this number. This violates a basic responsibility of the TV director in HDVD to show the entire orchestra as soon as feasible. This is done so the viewer can see how the orchestra is organized and get ready to enjoy the show. The overture has 30 conductor shots, 20 instrument-only shots, and 6 shots of portions of the orchestra from the rear ("back shots"). So for almost half of the overture, you don't see the face of a single player! I do count 11 nice, coherent shots of solos and sections. The rest of the video is mostly part-section shots with lots of confusing panning around.  A huge number of cuts (not including conductor shots) have obvious problems with  focus or depth of field of focus. There are even a number of shots where nothing is in focus! You have to step your way through this cut by cut to understand just how bad it is. In total, there are about 118 cuts in less than 8 minutes for about 4 seconds per cut. This blistering pace is adult attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder working overtime.

I then made notes on the 1st movement of Symphony No. 4. It's worse. Well over half of the movement is devoted to instrument-only shots (61!), conductor shots (54), and backs. There still is not a single shot showing all the orchestra although there are 7 showing most of it and one really nice shot showing a row of winds. The rest of Symphony No. 4 is more of the same, although slightly less frantic. In the 3rd movement of Symphony No. 4, we finally get a 100% shot of the orchestra. It looks like a DVD or even a VHS image.

Here are some screenshots from the Coriolan Overture and Symphony No. 4. First we have a "backs" shot that opens the Coriolan Overture. Why would one start off a video of a symphony orchestra concert by showing the backs of all the players? I've seen scores, maybe hundreds, of symphony concerts: never once was my seat behind the orchestra:

I'm going to show you how judicious I am by bragging on some good shots now. Here's the concertmaster and some 1st violins in a clear shot that was apparently easy for one of the cameras to frame. (The only problem is we will see this same view about 20 more times.):

This is the shot of the row of winds I mentioned earlier. This is the only shot in the first half of the disc that shows artistic merit:

This is the first whole-orchestra shot on the disc which appears, as mentioned above, in the Third Movement of Symphony No. 4. Now we see the shocking truth: director Simonnet did not have equipment at the theater that could produce a HD picture at this range with the available light:

 

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Wednesday
Jan162013

Steve Reich Phase to Face

Steve Reich Phase to Face film by Eric Darmon and Frank Mallet. This is a documentary film detailing the career and music of Steve Reich. Includes bonus featurettes Talks in Tokyo with Steve Reich and A Brief History of Music by Steve Reich Grade: B

For the novice just getting into classical music, it may seem, on first glance, that classical music is dead. Not dead in the sense that it isn't being played, performed, and loved by millions of people, but dead in that seemingly no new classical music is being written. One need only visit this site to see that the interest for watching classical music exists. But an inspection of the titles shows that the music being played is distinctly older. While there are plenty of new ballets being produced and new operas being performed, it seems that new classical music is highly underrepresented.

But as the novice digs further,  he will find that modern classical music does exist. It just doesn't sound much like the works of Beethoven or Mozart. A fine example of this is the work of Steve Reich. A modern, minimalist composer, he has been writing and performing from the mid-1960s and is still composing today. His work is marked by the use of phasing - a technique where two of the same instrument play the same piece of music, at steady but not identical tempos. The result is a sound unlike most in the classical tradition. This technique, and Reich's works, have been highly influential in  the direction of modern classical and popular music.  When the history of late 20th century music is written, Reich's name will appear as one its key figures. Here are a few screenshots of Reich in his trademark olive baseball cap:

The film itself is only about 50 minutes - a bit on the short side. But both the topic and the man himself are so engaging that the running time is an afterthought. The film follows Reich as he travels the world from concert to concert and into recording studios where he continues to perform new music. Interspersed between the concert footage are sections with Reich discussing his life and influences. He discusses several of his most well regarded works, namely Music for 18 Musicians and Different Trains, as well as other pieces. While not exhaustive in detail, there is definitely enough to get a feel for the type of music Reich composes. Here are a few shots of the types of musical interludes in the film - both live performances and video montages made for the film:

The disc also contains two extras - a brief "Q & A" after a performance in Japan, and a short discussion of "The History of Music" as seen by Reich. These are just as illuminating as the main feature. Honest and thoughtful, Reich is an excellent subject for a documentary. His passion for music is readily discerned from his discussions, but he never ventures into avant guarde pretension.

My only disappointment with this disc is that there is no extra of a complete performance of one of Reich's works. If this documentary does well in the market, perhaps HDVD producers will be encouraged to release complete concert discs. But I'm aware that this disc is advertised as a documentary only. As such it teaches the novice much about Reich and the future of classical music, and it deserves the grade of "B."

Sunday
Jul012012

Menahem Pressler Recital

Menahem Pressler Recital. Menahem Pressler performs the following piano pieces:

1. Beethoven Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110

2. Chopin Mazurkas Op. 7 No. 1, Op. 7 No. 3, Op. 17 No. 4

3. Debussy Estampes

4. Schubert Sonata in B flat major D. 960

5. Chopin Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp major, Op. posth.

Produced and directed by Pierre-Martin Juban at Cité de la musique, Paris, 2011. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound (early reports that the music was stereo only were false). Grade: D

The best thing about this title is the keep-case booklet notes that Pressler wrote himself! It's a simple, direct telling of his life's story and his philosophy as an artist. It's so much more interesting and touching that the usual pablum you get from the PR department! I've read a lot of booklet notes: right now I can't remember even one of them, but I'll never forget what Pressler wrote. Maybe we should pass a law that all recording artists have to at least publish a letter to people who might buy their recordings.

Having read my praise of Pressler as a writer and man, you may already realize that I'm going to be critical of his performance. I'm not an apologist for or promoter of artists and recording companies. My job is to alert you to those who are offering a lot in their HDVDs and warn you of those who are not.

First some mechanical stuff. At 88 minutes, this is not a generous program, especially considering the vast capacity of the Blu-ray disc. The producers of this record still think we a dumb enough to be happy with the amount of music we used to get on an LP or CD.

There was not enough light on the stage. The camera was able to resolve well the black notes on the white pages of Pressler's sheet music---I was able sometimes to easily follow the pianist on the score he was playing from. But the rest of the picture suffers from haze, poor rendition of detail, and slightly washed-out color. SQ is at the lower end of what is today considered the norm for HDVD (not an audiophile recording). To my ear, on my system, with this recording, I think something was wrong with the piano---probably at least two treble keys are defective or out-of-tune. Maybe the piano sounds normal on other setups. (All other pianos sound normal on my system.)

Even though the program is short, Pressler plays all his main selections from sheet music. Using sheet music is not a crime. I understand that Richter used a score regularly toward the end of his career. But if you are competing for a prize or there's a substantial fee involved, I think you are expected to memorize. In my own limited experience, I've enjoyed a fair number of piano recitals from high-school students to folks as distinguished as Stephen Hough and Mark-André Hamelin, and they all committed the music to memory. And all the other piano soloists so far to publish an HDVD recording have memorized. If you offer your recital for sale at $35 a pop, don't you think that's competing for a substantial fee?

Why did Pressler use sheet music? His career has been in chamber music (6000+ performances with the Beaux-Arts trio). In all ensample playing, the fundamental requirement is for everybody to stay together, and the only practical way to do this is to have sheet music an a constant reference point. So Pressler is not used to memorizing.

For the solo player to use sheet music is like going to sleep in the snow---painless but fatal. The solo player can take any liberty he wishes in his rendition. Since he's not coordinating with anyone, he doesn't have to use the score as reference. If the soloist does use a score, then no matter how familiar he is with the music, it still takes mental energy to convert those notes on the page to sounds in the air. Let's say that in a given piece, it takes 5% of the performer's energy to read the music. That overhead leaves him with 95% of his faculties to shape the rendition. Well, folks, in today's world, if you are playing at 95%, you are in deep trouble. Maybe Richter was so great that he was competitive at 95%. But I doubt that Pressler can be a recording artist in his second career as a soloist with a deficit arising from reading scores.

I reached my conclusions about Presser after listening to his Schubert D. 960 sonata. My main references for comparison are two recital performances of this by Hamelin (etched in my soul).  Pressler is able to play all the notes, and he knows how to play soft and loud (making Schubert sound like Beethoven).  But Hamelin (a fully-qualified soloist who knew D. 960 by heart) did so much more: he shaped every note and phrase according to his conception of the architecture of the piece and made every note and phase part of a sublime whole.  Alas, I have no recording the Hamelin D. 960. So I consulted a CD of D. 960 by Jenő Jandó (Naxos 8.550457). Jandó also captures Schubert's poetry in a way that eludes Pressler. (You're right, I don't know if Jandó was playing from memory or reading notes.)

I admit:  I could be wrong about Pressler. Maybe I don't like Pressler's rendition just because I'm used to something else. But that's another nice thing about HDVD: I can see Pressler dividing his attention between his performance and his efforts to keep track of the music on the pages in front of him. This gives me proof to support my conclusions. And there is one other piece of evidence I should mention. The one segment of Pressler's show where I do hear poetry in his performance is his Chopin Nocturne played as an encore. This Pressler played from memory. Pressler obviously loves life and wants to stay active as long as possible. I can relate to that. My prayer for Menahem is for him to start memorizing music he might try to record.

What grade to give? Pressler was 88 when he made this recording. Compared to the other piano recitals we have on HDVD, his performance is lackluster.  And the odd treble notes on the piano bother me. So I can't think of any reason why a typical music lover would want to buy this HDVD. This results in the grade of "D." On the other hand, if you know Pressler or have some other reason to get this, you will, after absorbing this tough review, probably find enough in his renditions to satisfy you.

Wednesday
Nov302011

Chopin Piano Concertos 1 & 2

 

This  Chopin concert program has the following music:

1. The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra plays Bajka (Fairy Tale) by Stanisław Moniuszko.

2. Garrick Ohlsson plays the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1

3. Ohlsson plays the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2

4. Ohlsson plays as encore the Chopin Mazurka in C sharp minor (Op. 50 No.3)

In addition, the disc has a 53-minute documentary, The Art of Chopin: A Film by Gérald Caillat.

Antoni Wit conducts all the live music in 2009 with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra at the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall. The concert was directed for TV by Sébastian Glas; photography was directed by Thierry Houlette; sound was recorded and edited by Andrzej Sasin. Gérald Caillat wrote and directed the documentary. Hélène Le Cœur produced both the concert and the documentary.  Released 1011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C+

Let's start with comments that apply to the entire live performance. Thanks, I think, to Andrzej Sasin, the sound is quite pleasant. SQ throughout is competitive with most of the better HDVDs coming out now (other than audiophile recordings from publishers like NHK and AIX). Picture quality, however, is sub-par with poor resolution, a grainy appearance, color balance making folks look a bit too pink, and some motion artifacts. But what really drags this title down is amateurish video content, which we will discuss in detail.

Bajka (Fairy Tale)

We have commented often on our standards for a good HDVD of a symphony performance. The basic idea is to use the power of high-definition cameras to make video images showing much or all of the orchestra and to move in for close-up shots only when there are good reasons. This gives the viewer an experience similar to a spectator at a live performance enhanced with a reasonable number of close-up shots. You can't do this with low-resolution DVD pictures. DVDs therefore tend to present a long string of cuts from one close-up to another in a manner often reminiscent of a cartoon chase. Too often the TV director shoots a DVD and it gets published also as an HDVD because the producer doesn't know how an HDVD should look. When this happens,  we will call it to your attention.

The Bajka video is pure DVD. In about 14 minutes there are 155 cuts (that's a lot of action). There are 47 shots of the conductor and 26 close-up shots of instruments only---typical DVD fare. Most of the rest of the show is a  series of back-and-forth views from the conductor to the ghostly instruments, to soloists, or to small groups of players.  No attention is given to sections in the orchestra. There are only a few attempts to show most or a substantial part of the band. Most of these shots are from the side showing the backs of many musicians.

Because the action is so fast paced, the cameramen don't have time to set up their shots well. There's an astonishing number of shots with framing, focus, and field-of-focus issues. See for examples :41 where the camera is too low. In :53, 5:06, and 5:21 see framing and focus problems. At 5:34 the only person in focus is not playing while all the persons playing are out-of-focus.  The most dumbfounding shots are 2:02, 2:21, and 2:30 where the center of attention is the back of a music stand. All this video mayhem taxes the viewers' minds and interferes with appreciation of the music. This is anathema to us who love HDVD. Well-done HDVD doesn't damage the music; it supports and enhances the music. The grade for this Bajka segment, were we to give one, would have to be a "F." Nothing this shabby ought to be published.

Piano Concerto No. 1

This is another pure DVD. There were only 3 brief efforts during this concerto to show the whole orchestra, and at least of them is ruined because the camera was too low. There are a few part-orchestra shots, mostly made from the side showing the backs of many players. I noted only one effort to shoot any strings as a section. Then there is a flabbergasting 295 shots of the soloist (sometimes with 2 or 3 different views in one keyboard run). There are way too many shots of the conductor (many made over the backs of the orchestra). The conductor shots are used as a hub with spokes out to solos, ghost instruments without visible players, and small groups of musicians. As complained of already, there are many views with gross framing, focus, and field-of-focus errors; see examples at 17:10, 25:09, 25:12, 25:30, 20:31, 29:37, 42:43, 53:28. At 23:12 and 23:31 there was a new one for me: shots of the conductor's belly.

All this is a bit of a tragedy because Ohlsson's performance is so smooth, elegant, and flawless. He is more animated than Demidenko and more graceful than Barenboim in their recent HDVD readings of Concerto No. 1.

Piano Concerto No. 2

The video content on this track is pretty much the same as on the recording of Concerto No. 1. There is no whole-orchestra shot at all. The pace of cuts is somewhat slowed, but there is still way too much going that tends to distract the viewer. I found the Ohlsson performance to be less dramatic and percussive that that of Kissin and Barenboim in their recent discs. But the Ohlsson approach was to me more beautiful and satisfying that that of the competition.

The Art of Chopin: A Film by Gérald Caillat

This is a pleasant presentation of Chopin's career with tons of legacy and modern footage of Ohlsson and other famous pianists chopining. It adds something of value to this otherwise disappointing disc.

Let's sum up.  It's sad that we now have 3 HDVDs of the Chopin concertos, but none of the discs do justice to the artists who performed. Now that we have high-definition TV, we have the ability to produce wonderful new video recordings. But the industry must learn how to use the high-definition cameras properly and leave behind bad DVD habits. Once the industry learns this, we must record everything over again. This will take a long time, but it will present a recorded legacy to the world superior to everything that has been done before.

Both Ohlson performances had the potencial for "A+" grades. But bad PQ and miserable video content knock this disc down two grades. The nice documentary offsets the total-loss Bajka number. So I wind up with the grade of "C+." I hope any other pianists who contemplate recording for Blu-ray will insist on working with techs who know how to make an HDVD as distinguished from making a DVD.

Tuesday
Sep132011

Glenn Gould: Hereafter

Glenn Gould: Hereafter documentary. This is a motion picture film, directed by Bruno Monsaingeon, about the legendary Gould. According to the release announcement, it "synthesizes an incredible wealth of archival material" and is made "as if narrated by Gould himself." Released in 2009, it has 5.0 dts-HD sound. This was the first HDVD documentary about a fine-art subject. Grade: B+

Gould was obsessed with his concept of musical performing. The word "Hereafter" in this title refers to the impact Gould still has on his obsessed fans all over the world. Gould lives, and his church grows. Monsaingeon collaborated with Gould for years. This highly original film is probably as historically accurate and as creative as any documentary about Gould can get. The thoughts and words of Gould in the narration of the film are rendered by three different actors in English, French, and German. Gould speaks from the archival material in English. Actor Rory Bremmer speaking in English convinced me that I was listening to the Gould ghost. If you watch this in French or German, there will be subtitles in your language to spook you when the real Gould speaks English from archive. All this wonderful narration is accessed thru the soundtrack and subtitle buttons on your remote control. In this way Monsaingeon starts to fulfill the Gouldian prophecy of the "participant listener" (see below). (There is no menu for this movie; nor does the booklet with the keep case  say a thing about how to access the three versions of the narration. Start pushing buttons, participant listener! You can't break anything.)

The basic framework of this movie is shot in HD and looks fine except for some motion artifacts. Much of the content comes from old motion pictures and tapes of TV shows. This is quite crude looking, but it's rendered as well as possible. The dts-HD sound is completely satisfying.

Now let's move on to the content of subject title. I knew about the eccentricities of Gould's playing style. What I didn't know about was Gould's wicked sense of humor, galactic intellect, and orator-level speaking ability. Gould worked in television in Canada for years. Because he worked from conviction, he comes across (speaking from archives) stronger than most television journalists working today. Here's Gould's pitch: professional musicians have nailed down the traditional way of playing classical music. So performing to a live audience is now at a dead end. The future of classical music is to work on new interpretations of the canon in studios where the performers can experiment and everything can be recorded. Thus the performer becomes a kind of junior composer. What the performer seeks from the historical scores are new renditions of preternatural intensity and spirituality. This will not be achieved all that often, but when it is, it's been recorded and can be shared. And the person with whom the new rendition will be shared is the "participant listener" in his home or study.

On this website, we take the position that a seeing and hearing a decent live performance will be more satisfying  than any recording can be. Although we are crazy about HDVDs for many reasons, we don't think recording technology  can  better or replace live performance. Gould apparently thought differently: he believed that an recording of an superb performance would be more valuable than a typical or normal live performance of the same work.

The idea of the participant listener seemed ridiculous in the era of long-playing vinyl recordings. But do you see now where this is going? With HDVD in your home theater, the era of the participant listener has in fact arrived: on this film I can decide if I want to "be" Gould in English, French, or German! If I can do that, why can't I get an HDVD with multiple interpretations of each of the Chopin etudes and then use bookmarks to put together the line-up that I like best? Why can't I pick from my ballet disc the full version or an abridged version? Why can't I buy a La Bohème and set it up to let me sing duets with Netrebko. Why not record operas with every protagonist carrying a hidden camera, make multiple shots, and let the viewer direct his own opera? Why can't there be a website tied to home theaters where lovers of piano music can vote on videos of piano performances submitted by anyone with the guts to upload something?

Sunday
Sep112011

Unquiet Traveller 

Unquiet Traveller is a documentary film by Bruno Monsaingeon about pianist Piotr Anderszewski. Also features Dorota Anderszewska on violin, the Philharmonia Orchestra London conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Released 2010, disc has 5.1 PCM sound. Grade: D

After admiring Monsaingeon's Glenn Gould: Hereafter documentary, this Anderzewski title is a severe letdown. Piotr Anderszewski is another piano genius who likes to sing while he plays. But Anderszewski has a long way to go before his recording credits would rival those of Gould, and Anderszewski shows nothing on this HDVD like Gould's intellect and comprehensive communication skills. Here's what we learn about Piotra in this HDVD: he's a great piano player and a charming young rascal who may be suffering from arrested development. He loves to talk and says things like (quoted from the film), "Mozart's premature death is something which I never stop mourning. It's something I can't bring myself to accept." This is a sentiment that has been in the breast of every music lover since December 5, 1791, so this "reflection" from Anderszewski is not worth reporting in a documentary. Right on the package, it is stated that this HDVD is "located somewhere between a documentary and pure fiction." Since you don't know what is true and what is fantasy, you don't know what to think about any of it.

One thing I did like was Anderszewski's transcriptions of opera and orchestral music such as Mozart's Magic Flute; but, of course, the piano player had to ruin it all by singing, speaking aside, and mugging for the camera. Also, I think that most or all of the extensive voice-over narration was Anderszewski's voice. Well, just as professional announcers should not play piano at a concert, professional piano players should not record voice-overs in fuzzy, soft, heavily-accented mumbled English.

If you are  an Anderszewski groupie, you have the have this HDVD; otherwise, I can't think why anyone would want it, and give it grade "D." 

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