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 19. I just posted a short review on András Schiff Plays Bach. We are getting again into symphony titles and the existential issue of DVDitis. I just posted stories on a Mahler 4 recorded at the Gewandhaus and an earlier Mahler 2 recorded at the same venue. Both titles are crippled by the dread disease.

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 Oxingale (1)

Friday
Aug232013

O'Riley's Liszt

Updated on Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 9:18AM by Registered CommenterHenry McFadyen Jr.

O'Riley's Liszt, a piano concert.  Christopher O'Riley plays the following Liszt transcriptions and adaptions:

1. Wagner "Prelude & Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde.

2. Schumann "Frühingsnacht." ("Spring Night")

3. Mozart Don Giovanni, which is the basis for "Reminiscences de Don Juan (Don Juan Fantasy)"

4. Schubert "Frühingsglaube." ("Faith in Spring")

5. Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique.

The recordings were made over 5 days in 2012, mostly in the Tippet Alley Studio in the Colorado mountains. The recording producer was Judith Sherman; the recording engineer was Mickey Houlihan; Mike Toia was piano technician; the video editor was Djuna Zupancic; audio and Blu-ray mastering was the work of Gus Skinas. The music was recorded at 96kHz24bit, and my Oppo disc information screen states that the audio output file is at 96k. The highest level output is 4.0 dts-HD Master Audio surround. This is the second HDVD I have encountered with 4.0 instead of 5.0 sound. (Thanks to Zoltan Glied for pointing out that the Opus Arte The Merry Widow also supports only 4 surround speakers.) I consider 4.0 to be adequate for this recording where the sound source is generally in the center of the video picture. You don't need a center speaker for a concert of a solo piano. The video specs state that the video recording displays as "Full HD" at 1080p. Recording time is 84 minutes. There is an artist commentary sound tract available as an option instead of the main sound tract. There are no subtitles in English or any foreign language. There is a Special Feature which lasts 4 minutes and 10 seconds called The Bells of Berlioz. Grade: D

O'Riley was trained as a classical concert pianist, and he is the solo artist on perhaps 10 classical recordings issued early in this career. (He also appears in a number of compilations.)

O'Riley's career then took the tack of cross-over artist, entertainer, and impresario. He made several popular recordings based on Radiohead music. (OK, my son claims that the music of Radiohead is 21st century classical music. I retort that the people of the 22nd Century will have to decide that.) O'Riley's most successful venture probably has been "From the Top," his charming regular program on National Public Radio where O'Riley acts as Master of Ceremonies and school age classical artists perform to delightfully high standards. O'Riley is one of the very few musicians I can think of who can be a masterful public speaker. (Another would be Glenn Gould, who earned fees for working as a striking and engrossing announcer and personality on black and white television!)

The selections on O'Riley's Liszt are all from the nearly-forgotten genre of transcriptions or adaptations of works by various classical composers. There was a huge market for this before the era of electronic recording of music. Many transcriptions by Liszt and others are wonderful works themselves, and this genre is slowing making a comeback.

I think it's accurate to say that O'Riley's Liszt is an effort by O'Riley's to get back into straight classical recording. But O'Riley is not afraid to try new things, and this Liszt adventure is anything but academic or staid. This appears also be the only optical disc video recording devoted exclusively to Liszt transcriptions. (There are lots of CDs. And I did find on Arkiv Music one DVD of the Liszt transcription of Symphonie Fantastique played for the performance of a ballet.) So an HDVD devoted to Liszt transcriptions is something of a bright idea. But, alas, O'Riley's performance and the way it presented confronts me with a host of issues to discuss as I try to describe the recording and assess its merit. My approach to this will be to discuss my Loves, my Hates, and my Puzzlements, in that order.

Loves:

The sound recording is very good, and I think the use of 96kHz24bit specs contributed to this. The sound is better that what Sony provided to Volodos in his splendid Volodos in Vienna HDVD. This is impressive when you consider the huge resources available to Sony in contrast to the economic realities of operating a tiny, independent recording company such as Oxingale. I also compared subject title to the Sony recording of Lang Lang in Vienna and found the two about equal. The Sony sound was sweeter and more refined; the Oxingale effort seems more brilliant and incisive.

I love the special, unique Steinway piano the Oxingale folks found for O'Riley. (I know, every Steinway is special and unique.) Liszt compositions tend to fall into two camps: the morosely sad or psychically extravagant; most of the bars on this recording are in psychic mode and require everything that 88 keys can give---the masochistic Tippet Rise Steinway loves every minute of the abuse.

I liked the striking nature scenes O'Riley added to the video. Here, for example, is a shot made near the recording studio in the Colorado wilderness:

And here is my favorite shot from the whole disc:

Although the artwork for the Blu-ray package looks terrible in small images on the Internet, the packaging in person, while not elaborate, is quite pretty and even refreshing. And even if you don't particularly like this title, you can't say it's a rip-off at about $20 from Amazon.

Hates:

I was surprised that O'Riley used scores for every minute of his performance read from a lap-top computer perched on the top of the Steinway:

Here's a guy who all but claims he is a reincarnation of Liszt (more later on this), but he can't memorize 83 minutes of music! Well, we have a policy on this point which is spelled out in detail in our review of a Menahem Pressler solo piano recital. Here's the policy in brief: If you haven't memorized, you can't play at 100% capacity. In today's competitive environment for pianists, if you're not at 100%, you've taken yourself out of the game. When I compare O'Riley's playing here to what I'm used to (folks like Volodos, Lang Lang, Kissen, and Hamelin) I see a great struggle to get the notes right which leaves little headroom for elegance and artistic interpretation.

On this website we aim to enjoy the very best, and we normally mark down soloists reading music 2 grades. Since O'Riley's Liszt could have earned an A+ (thanks to the excellent tech specs) the highest grade we could give for this title would be a "C+." This still could make for a reasonable purchase at $20 of music you otherwise probably would not have on your shelf. So let's continue our review.

In the picture above, you see a double image of water flowing by. This was inspired by the music and is fine. You also see a little little white box sitting on the bridge next to the top treble keys. That box is a video camera.  Here you see another white-box video camera on a boom behind O'Riley:

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