Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 & Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1

The top of this story is about the old-fashion 2K Blu-ray version which we now have (July 1, '17). See information on the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version at the bottom. All entries for this concert on the Alphalist link to this story.

 

Piano Concerto No. 2 & Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 concert. Khatia Buniatishvili performs in July 2015 with the Israel Philhamonica Orchestra under Zubin Mehta (the Liszt was 1st and the Beethoven several nights later). This is an old-fashion 2K Blu-ray video even though there is no 1080i format spec printed on the package. Disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. I think this is the first fine-arts Blu-ray recording with a sound track for the new Dolby Atmos sound system. (Dolby Atmos is not bound to 4K---it can be played on a 2K disc if you have the right gear and speakers). Directed for TV by Christophe Boula; sound engineers were Jiri Heger and Rafi Eshel; Dolby Atmos mix by Eric Chevallier; Atmos mix artistic director was Mireille Faure (Soundways); produced by Amos Rozenberg. Package claims running time is 57 minutes; actual music on the disc runs about 49 minutes, 42 seconds. [This title is also available in a DVD version --- so there are 3 versions of this concert in 3 different video form factors: (1) DVD, (2) 2K Blu-ray, and (3) 4K Blu-ray.] Grade: C for the 2K title.

Jeremy Nicholas reviewed this in the 2K version in the March 2017 Gramophone at page 29. He says watching Khatia is as thrilling as hearing her, and neither the lipstick nor the hair with a life of its own deters him. But the visual content causes problems for Nicholas. He states, "Khatia is the only thing worth watching. I lost count of the times the director cut away [from Khatia] at an inappropriate moment, losing the tension, focusing on the wrong section while the piano part was the musical centre of attention." Oh dear, this sounds like DVDitis, doesn't it! Nicholas also complains of weak video resolution.

I just ran a Wonk Worksheet on the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in 2K to see if I would arrive at the same conclusion as Nicholas as to Christophe Boula's video content. Well, the video content flunks the pace test badly with only 6 seconds per chip. It also flunks the soloist test badly because there are so many unrealistic shots of Khatia. Further, there is not a single shot in the Liszt of the whole orchestra playing. On the other hand, it passes the conductor test and the supershot test, which is usually not too hard to do with a soloist star playing a concerto. If you are not familiar with the jargon in the last few sentences, see our Wonk Worksheet Instructions which explains how we analyze video content on this website.

But before I go further, I have to warn you about a disc authorship problem with this title. If your TV display is set on "vivid" or "bright" mode, you probably will not be able to use the disc menu to navigate! The menu titles are in white. The selected item on the menu changes color to a light gray-blue. If your TV is set in vivid mode, you will not be able to see the slight change in color. To see the menu well, you may have to be in "dark" mode. I took my disc to John Fort in Dallas and played it on a new LG OLED display that had been calibrated at the factory. With that set I was able to read the menu, but the picture seemed rather dark in the Liszt performance. 

Now let's move to some screenshots from the Liszt performance. Screen shots captured from video on a PC always lose luminance and look darker than the image on the TV. So these shots will doubtless look better on your display than here.

The 1st obligation of the video director is to show the home audience the whole orchestra as soon as possible. It appears Christophe Boula did not have a camera in a location where this could be done! So the best he could do was this inane opening shot of much of the orchestra from behind. Note the soft resolution and dim lighting complained of by Jeremy Nicholas:

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Below next is a decent realistic shot of Khatia in an early, dramatic solo passage. She develops tremendous power, here, I think, by grasping the piano with her right hand to undergird her core and give her a solid foundation for hammer blows with the left hand:

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Here are only 11 decent part-orchestra shots in the video like the one below:

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A face shot like the next below is unrealistic since no audience member can see this. A few shots like this are fine; unfortunatey, the video has too many of these views:

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Here below is one of the better realistic shots of Khatia as soloist:

This next view pops up often. Is it a conductor-over-backs shot or an unrealistic shot of the soloist? I made a gut call on each of these weak shots---probably coming down about 50/50:

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This next one below is clearly a conductor-over-backs shot because Khatia is resting:

Here below is a great shot of Marcel Bergman in a gorgeous solo cello passage:

Now below is a nice shot of most of the winds:

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But alas, this video has way more bad shots than it should.  One camera was positioned so the double harps kept getting in the way! There are 10 shots in the Liszt video ruined by the harps!

This view contains two errors in one. First the angle where the conductor partially obscures the soloist is unfortunate. Then the image is further degraded by the harp in the way:

Nothing wrong with showing the trombones once or twice. But never before in any HDVD do I remember seeing such a weak angle as this one:

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There are 27 shots of the conductor-over-backs. The shot below is the worst because Khatia, who is playing, is completely obscured by musicians in the back of the orchestra:

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Next below---A sheet music shot?

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The next shot shows how dangerous it can be to keep making video of the conductor. Here the orchestra is at rest and Khatia is playing solo. But Boula keeps his camera on Mehta who is seen here flipping a page in his score with an expression on his face that I interpret as boredom. When will this thing be over?  Jeremy Nicholas was right: Boula should have kept his camera on Khatia, who is having a lot of fun:

Now for a grade on the Liszt concerto.  Under our standards, I diagnose a serious case of DVDitis which brings the grade down to a C. It also seems a bit silly to put 49 minutes of music on a disc that can hold 4 hours. (Would you buy an LP that had music on only 1/2 of one side?) Finally, the weak lighting, soft resolution, and errors noted force me down to a D. But that's too harsh a grade considering Khatia's delightful performance.  So I'll move the grade up to a C. It will be interesting to see if this video looks substantially better in it's 4K version. Could it be that the 4K high dynamic range feature will make this Liszt performance look a lot better than the 2K does?

Now lets add a few words about the the Beethoven performance that came 2 days later. The second shoot was improved with more lights. It was easier for Boula to get decent shots of the smaller orchestra, and Beethoven didn't use harps! Finally, Khatia wore this time a glittering silver dress instead of black. So even thought Boula's shooting plan for the Beethoven seemed to about the same as for the Listz, the video is noticeably improved. Here are some screenshots.

A lovely lady. And her cup runs over with warm personality she cheerfully shares:

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Still no whole-orchestra shot. This is the best Boula can do, but it's just a conductor-over-backs shot:

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A beautiful realistic soloist shot:

But there is no realistic soloist shot available from the other side of the stage. The stage and camera are set up such that the piano lid is always in the way!

This is not a realistic soloist shot because no audience member can see this; but still, this view is welcome:

In this shot you see Khatia beeming at the orchestra; she seems to be a generous person who appreciates everyone's contribution:

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Another unrealistic but pleasing soloist angle followed by several "hair" shots:

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A nice shot of the winds:

A rare shot of 2nd violins:

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I'll give the Beethoven concerto a B-. It could easily have been so much better!

Here's a clip with a bit of the Beethoven:

Now for the 4K version:

 

This could turn out to be this first "real" 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray title of a fine-arts subject. The cover states that this title sports HDR, or high dynamic range, a new feature for Ultra Blu-ray video that shows more vivid images and colors (something different than merely adding more resolution). I predict that the video content here will be exactly the same as on the DVD and the 2K Blu-ray. Alas, garbage in, garbage out. Let's hope the increase in resolution, the addition of high dynamic range, and maybe the wider color facility will make the 4K version better than the 2K.  In 2015, director Christophe Boula shot a DVD, and a mediocre one at that. All we can do with  the 4K Ultra Blu-ray is note the improvement in PQ and SQ. But otherwise, the DVDitis baked into this 4K disc likely will damage it the same as the 2K version. The only way to make a modern 4K title of a symphony is to shoot the performance correctly for HD displays at the outset.