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 RCO Live (6)


Stravinksy Le Sacre du Printemps and Debussy La Mer

Stravinksy Le Sacre du Printemps and Debussy La Mer concert. Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, 2017. Also included is Debussy Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Video shot at 1080p 24 fps. Music was recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

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


Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"

Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection". Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra & Netherlands Radio Choir at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam (Chorus Master Klaas Stok) in 2016. Singers are Chen Reiss (soprano) and Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano). Released 2017, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound and 9.0 Auro-3D sound. Grade: Help!

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


Berlioz Symphonie fantastique

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique performed 2016 by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Daniele Gatti at the Concertgebouw. Concert also includes Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture (Dresden version) and the Liszt Orpheus (Symphonic Poem No. 4). Music recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Video was recorded at 1080p24, which is unusual as most video these days are recorded at 30 frames per second. (You may need to fiddle with equipment settings to get the 24 fps to play nice.) Released 2016, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

The recording arm of the Royal Concertgebouw operation is called RCO Live. It appears they have been pretty successful with CDs and other audio formats. But their video publication record is poor due to cutting corners and serious problems with DVDitis.  Their Mahler Symphonies 1-10 box was a huge failure that got a D grade from us. Somewhat better was their Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 box that is graded B- here.

This new video of Symphony fantastique is not generous. RCO management is still stuck in the LP/CD rut while offering 85 minutes of music on a disc that can play for 4 hours.  Well, if you want to charge $35 for one symphony, the content must be state-of-the-art in every respect. RCO has come through with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling, which is encouraging.

But I note that this title is also available in DVD, which is discouraging. If the video content on the Blu-ray is the same as that of the DVD, then the Blu-ray version is automatically rendered obsolete as it falls short of today's state-of-the-art in making HD recordings of symphony concerts. (I did see a short video clip from this recording that prepares me to be disappointed.)

If you have this Blu-ray recording, I ask you to consult our Work Worksheet and Wonk Worksheet Instructions. Then I ask you to play this Symphony fantastique while assigning each video clip to the categories on the Wonk Worksheet. This will take some work. But if you do this work and let us publish it, you will instantly become an elite fine-arts critic. That's because the Wonk Worksheet is the only technique ever devised for art criticism that has objective standards that can be peer-reviewed.  Have you got the guts to be a Wonk?



Beethoven Symphonies 1-9

Beethoven Symphonies 1-9. This is a box set of all 9 Beethoven symphonies with Iván Fischer conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Choir.  Recorded live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on 11 May 2013 (1, 2, & 5), 31 May 2013 (3 & 4), 9-10 January 2014 (6 & 7), and 20-21 February 2014 (8 & 9). Symphony No. 9 features Myrto Papatanasiu (soprano), Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano), Burkhard Fritz (tenor), and Gerald Finley (bass). Title is available also in DVD, but recordings of  single symphonies are not offered. Sound is 96 kHz, 24 bit in LPCM 2.0, and DTS-HD MA 5.0. (It is clearly noted in the booklet and on the cases that both sound formats are 96/24.) TV Director is Dick Kuijs for all. Released 2015. Grade: B- as an average for the whole box.

The beautiful Concertgebouw (Concert Hall)

Iván Fischer

High-definition video consumers may have avoided this issue because of the flawed RCO Mahler box set issue which received an overall grade of D on HDVDarts.com. I am happy to report that the RCO label has made some amends; however, this brief review will demonstrate that the set does not deserve a top grade.

We'll start with some general comments on performance. I believe this to be a fine version of these Beethoven masterworks. Similar to other Fischer recordings (e.g. Mahler 4), he brings a lightness and transparency to the music. The tempi always feel well-considered --- never impeding forward momentum, while allowing space for the RCO musicians to create beautiful sounds and phrases. Rhythmic drive and a keen observation of accents (not sure if they are all Beethoven's) highlight folk elements in the music. Conversations and passing lines between groups of musicians are emphasized notably by Fischer, which adds good interest both aurally and visually. While the performances do not have the same raw energy or ferocity as some interpreters, I believe Fischer’s style to be both valid and interesting. This is a set very worthy of repeated listening.

There are no subtitles on any of the discs in this set. So there are no lyrics provided for the choral finale of the Symphony No. 9, although I did not consider this significant enough to deduct for (others may disagree!). For me, the nuances of the text are not imperative to understanding the music. The word “Freude” (Joy) is the most relevant, especially in terms of the feeling behind the music.

Picture quality is not quite up to par with the best Blu-ray concert releases, however I did not find it distracting. I would suggest that it is likely similar to the best of the RCO Mahler box set. However unlike that set, where the PQ varied between symphonies, I can gladly report that all of the Beethoven entries are very consistent in their production (including PQ lighting and color). To get things started on an overall grade for the box set, I’ll propose a deduction from A+ to A- (consistent with the Mahler set) for the soft PQ. As the SQ is 96/24, no further reduction is necessary and we are left with an A- as our starting point in the individual symphonies from which to assess against other HDVDarts.com criteria.

I have recorded statistics for 4 symphonies, which represent a range of recording dates. These also represent 4 of the more popular symphonies, so may be of increased interest to readers.

This limitation does make the assignment of a letter grade for the entire box slightly more problematic. HDVDarts.com has established the following rules-of-thumb to identify a Blu-ray with DVDitis:

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

Now let's look at the numbers for the 4 symphonies:

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Bruckner Symphony No. 5

Bruckner Symphony No. 5 recorded 2013 by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Although I haven't found any published verification of this, Zoltan Glied (who has always been right in the past) reports that this disc, released 2014, was recorded with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling and has both stereo and 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio output.  Grade: Help!

Thank you Zoltan for the tip on the sound sampling! RCO has recorded other material with 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling. The best example would be their Mahler Symphonies 1-10 in a box set. The performances and sound were commendable. But the video was so bad we wound up with a "D" grade!



Mahler Symphonies 1-10

Updated on Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 1:43PM by Registered CommenterHenry McFadyen Jr.

Mahler Symphonies 1-10 box set. This box has all the Mahler symphonies plus Totenfeier and Das Lied von der Erde. The concerts were performed 2009 - 2011 by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Mariss Jansons and several guest conductors. 

RCO Live is the in-house publishing arm of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The box has 11 separate keepcases---one for each symphony and another for Totenfeier and Das Lied von der Erde. The individual cases are  thin and have only skimpy editorial information printed on them. There is no additional printed matter for the box or individual titles. So, for example, you will not find the timings for movements noted anywhere. But the biggest problem is that there is no text added to the videos --- no subtitles for the soloists and chorus parts, no work/movement titles, and no credits. Audio production on all the titles were done by Everett Porter; lighting for all titles by Pascal Naber. The box was released in 2013. (My impression would be that these titles will not be offered separately.)

Here's the lineup of conductors, soloists, and choirs for the set:

Symphony 1 - Conducted by Daniel Harding. Directed by Hans Hulscher.
Symphony 2 - Conducted by Mariss Jansons. Features soprano Ricarda Merberth, mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, and the Netherlands Radio Choir (chief conductor Celso Antunes). Directed by Joost Honselaar.
Symphony 3 - Conducted by Mariss Jansons. Features mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, the Netherlands Radio Choir (chief conductor Celso Antunes), the Boys of the Breda Sacrament Choir (chorus master Henri de Graauw), and the Rijnmond Boys' Choir (chorus master Arie Hoek). Directed by Joost Honselaar.
Symphony 4 - Conducted by Iván Fischer. Features soprano Miah Persson. Directed by Joost Honselaar.
Symphony 5 - Conducted by Daniele Gatti. Directed by Joost Honselaar.
Symphony 6 - Conducted by Lorin Maazel. Directed by Joost Honselaar.
Symphony 7 - Conducted by Pierre Boulez. Directed by Peter Schönhofer.
Symphony 8 - Conducted by Mariss Jansons. Features soprano Christine Brewer, soprano Camilla Nylund, soprano Maria Espada, mezzo-soprnao Stephanie Blythe, alto Mihoko Fujimura, tenor Robert Dean Smith, bartione Tommi Hakala, bass Stefan Kocán, the Netherlands Radio Choir (chief conductor Celso Antunes), the State Choir "Latvija" (chorus master Maris Sirmais), the Bavarian Radio Choir (chorus master Peter Dijkstra), the National Boys Choir (chorus master Wilma ten Wolde), and the National Children's Choir (chorus master Wilma ten Wolde).  Directed by Joost Honselaar.
Symphony 9 - Conducted by Bernard Haitink. Directed by Peter Schönhofer.
Symphony 10 - Conducted by Eliahu Inbal.  Directed by Joost Honselaar.
Das Lied von der Erde - Conducted by Fabio Luisi. Features alto Anna Larsson and tenor Robert Dean Smith. Directed by Dick Kuijs.

Executive summary. I had high hopes for this set. That's because the very best video of a symphony ever made in the history of the universe was made by this same Concertgebouw orchestra in their own famous concert hall. I'm thinking, of course, of the NHK Schumann/Bruckner title we have bragged about so much on this website. This wonderful title was shot and published in 2009 about the time the Concertgebouw started on their Mahler box. Further, NHK had shot the very best Mahler video in history in 2008 and published it in 2009. So the standard had been set, and RCO management must have known of this. But RCO management chose not to make the necessary investment to make an HDVD worthy of their fabulous musicians.

To their credit, RCO did use 96 kHz sound sampling, but there is a bit of a mystery about this. The box says, "LPCM Stereo 96/24, DTS HD Master 5.0". So no bit spec is claimed for the surround sound. When each of the discs is played on an Oppo BDP-93 and one pushes the "display" button, the player reports that the stereo sound was recorded at "96k 24b" and that the surround sound at "5.0 96k" with no bit specification.  Is the absence of "24b" for the surround sound just a typo? Well, I suggest we have to believe what we read and conclude that the bit spec for the surround is less than 24 bit. Still, having watched all the discs in this set, I think the sound on this set is very fine. This is commendable, and I attribute this to the fact that RCO has had a lot of in-house experience with sound recordings.

But there are three grave blunders with the video and disc authorship in this set. First, I note that a DVD version is also available of the Mahler box. This tells me RCO decided to make a DVD and then to try to pimp it out in Blu-ray dress. As we have pointed out many times, this is impossible. To make a good HDVD of a symphony concert, you have to shoot it for HD presentation alone. Because RCO decided to make a DVD, all the discs  in the Blu-ray box suffer from DVDitis. Second, for inexplicable reasons, RCO also failed to get excellent resolution and picture quality for any of the 11 discs in the set. Thirdly, the decision was made not to provide text with the video. This move alone prevents the set from being taken seriously. The three blunders combined amount to a stain on the reputation of the orchestra itself and bring into question the competence of RCO management.

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