Des Knaben Wunderhorn


Des Knaben Wunderhorn concert. Pierre Boulez conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in 2010 at Severance Hall in Cleveland. Soloists Magdalena Kožená and Christian Gerhaher present the standard twelve songs from Mahler's Wunderhorn collection. The adagio from Mahler's Symphony No. 10 (unfinished) is also performed. This title, originating with Clasart Film und Fernsehproduktions GmbH, was produced by Herbert G. Kloiber and directed for TV and video by Wiliam Cosel.  Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C-

Two years before in 2008, the Cleveland Orchestra recorded a Bruckner Symphony No. 7 that was presented in HDVD and made by many of the same folks who created this Des Knaben Wunderhorn. I gave the Bruckner Symphony 7 an "D." But Des Knaben Wunderhorn shows some improvement.

The Adagio appears first on the disc. It's only 24 minutes long, so I ran the numbers. There are 146 clips, which works out to an average clip length of 9.6 seconds. This is about midway between the worst cases of DVDitis (5 seconds per clip) and the best HDVDs (15 second and up per clip). This suggests a moderate, but not fatal, case of DVDitis. The TV director attempts 10 whole-orchestra shots, which are hallmarks of a good HDVD. But alas, none of them work. Our 1st screenshot looks like the ones we saw in the Cleveland BrucknerNo. 7. Its not a real whole-orchestra shot because it was shot too far away:


The next screenshot below is an improvement because the orchestra occupies the entire width of the picture. But the angle is so low that the only players you can see are the ones siting next to the auditorium. This doesn't help us much since we can't use this view to see where the various instruments are located:

The next shot below is some better. But there are 3 problems: (1) it doesn't show everybody, (2) the elevation is still too low, and (3) now we can see how poor the image is. This is a "part-orchestra" shot:


Now compare the view above to a part-orchestra view from the Saito Kinen Orchestra below playing the Brahms Symphony No. 2. The elevation is bit higher, and the extra angle makes it so much easier to see the layout of the players. Also, the resolution and color balance are distinctly better in the shot below. For example, below you can see there are about 10 lines of music on each page. But in the shot above the sheet music is just a blur:

So in 2010, TV director Cosel still could not deliver attractive picture quality for his HDVD. We poor consumers can't be sure why this is. But one might suspect that Clasart Productions was trying to "uprez" a SD recording and call it an HDVD.  Even worse than the poor resolution of detail is the weird coloration of the recording. In the next 3 images below you will note that the skin tones seem too pink or too yellow. On my bright, calibrated plasma display, the odd colors are much more noticeable than in the images on my PC screen.  I've heard of post-production filters that get rid of picture noise but wind up making flesh look like plastic. This might account for the plethora of players in this film who look like they have sun-burns or jauntice, or both. The comments made earlier in this paragraph are based on seeing this in my current HT with mid-level quality components and a display that produces beautiful images from most of my hundreds of Blu-ray discs. I recently spot-checked subject disc by viewing it in the reference-level main showroom of John Fort Audio-Video in Dallas. John's fine gear and wonderful new 4K JVC projector makes subject disc look substantially better than what I can do in my HT:

That's enough about PQ. Let's return for a moment to video content. Of the 146 clips, 35 (24%) are of Boulez.  This gives too much attention to the conducting of a gent whose appearance in 2010 was that of a one-tree pertified forest. I'm sure Boulez was great in rehearsal, but I see no reason to watch him count out time for 6 minutes or so. (Please don't jump on me---I know Boulez just died. I don't blame him for the content of this video. A think the TV director decides how much film time to spend on the conductor.)

And in 12 of the conductor shots (made over the backs of the musicians) you can hardly see him beating out the time:

To be fair, Cosel did manage to get in a hand-full of good whole-section shots. Here are, I think, all of the 1st violins:

And here are the violas:

I count 16 large-scale shots in the video (11%). The rest are conductor shots or views of soloists or small groups. Too many of these shots are involved with excessive panning/zooming or have other artistic defects. For example, consider the next view of a horn solo. Why is much of the soloist's head cropped out? And why are there 7 other musicians framed in the image out-of-focus?

And here's one I never saw before. The cameraman had a row of brass players framed in a shot. In the  middle of the scene, a trombone player (too close to the TV camera to be the picture), ruins the shot by raising his instrument (to play) so that it passes between the camera lens and the musicians being filmed:

This video has little to commend it. But the music recording is surprising good with miking and mixing that lets you hear all the instruments playing at the same time! The strings sound lush and stand up to the winds and brass as equals throughout. And the music itself is beautiful and complete as a stand-alone work. Still, alas: A good video will usually enhance any music performance. But great audio of a good music performance is powerless to rescue a weak video.

Now to Wunderhorn.

When a symphonic work features solo singers, DVDitis is less prevalent because attention is focused on the stars and there is less inclinaton to capture video of the conductor,  solo instrumentalists, or small groups of players. Of course, the TV director should start, as always, with a whole-orchestra shot such as this one below showing Christian Gerhaher getting ready to sing the first of the 12 songs:

And the shot below is probably as good as Cosel can do showing the whole orchestra:

Gerhaher manages somehow to look and sound great even with the odd coloration of his face in the video.

Alas, poor Magdalena Kožená wears the ugliest (deliberately) wrinkled black jacket you ever saw anywhere accented by striking black bags under her eyes.

Her image is degraded further by ugly jewelry (her fault) and yellow skin tones from the video (not her fault). She looks like she showed up for work after spending the night on a park bench:

Kožená is a highly regarded opera singer. She's a natural actor full of dramatic moves and faces. Does her striking persona inhance or detract from the Mahler songs? You be the judge:


The musical performance of the singers and the orchestra is fine. The excellent recording and SQ noted in the Adagio segment continues throughout the Wunderhorn songs. (The bonus interview with Boulez is worthless.)

So in this title generally we have fine music, excellent SQ, a moderate case of DVDitis, and weak PQ. Just as with the Bruckner Symphony No. 7 mentioned above, I reviewed this disc in 2011 on entry-level gear, in 2015 on newer mid-level gear, and in 2016 in John Fort's reference HT showroom in Dallas, Texas. I found this disc unappealing in 2011 on entry-level gear because of the strange color balance. The disc looked some better in 2015 in my improved HT.  In John Fort's showroom, the video was distinctly better than what I can produce at home.

This is the first Accentus title to be produced by someone other than Paul Smaczny and associates. I wonder how the astute folks in Lepzig managed to get involved with it. Somewhere, there must be a lawyer to blame.  But now to a grade. If you have older or entry-level playing gear, I suggest you pass. If you have mid-level gear in your HT, this would be a "D+" title---buy it only if you have a real good reason. If you have reference-level gear, you could call this a "C+" title or maybe a "B" disc, especially if you like either of the singers. I'll try to keep everybody happy with a "C-" on the Alphalist.