Mahler Symphony No. 1 and Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3


Mahler Symphony No. 1 and Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 concert. Claudio Abbado conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2009. Yuja Wang is soloist. TV direction by Michael Beyer. Released 2010, music was recorded with 48 kHz/24-bit sound sampling, and disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: C+ for the Prokofiev concerto and C- for the Mahler Symphony No. 1

The Prokofiev concerto plays first. As you can see from the first screenshot, the video resolution is soft and only modestly better than a DVD. Color balance is decent, but at times skin tones seem a bit pink or yellow. SQ is clear and pleasant. Alas, this segment is afflicted with a harsh case of DVDitis. There are 318 video clips for 27 minutes of music, which works out to a blistering pace of about 5 seconds per clip. This is the normal velocity of a DVD, or roughly twice as fast as a typical HDVD:

Wang does get 38% of the total clips for her solo playing. The problem is that Beyer doesn't stay with her as long as we would like. He keeps interrupting her playing too quickly to show other musicians or the conductor. This is especially irritating as Wang is a beautiful young lady and a real pleasure to watch:

Beyer has trouble with focus and depth-of-field-of-focus. In the shot below, the focus appears to be behind Wang's hand and the keyboard has an unreal "wedge" shape:

Beyer leaves Wang 113 times to show musicians in the orchestra. The two lead cellists seen below are right in front of a camera. They show up way too often (not their fault), and neither is remotely as pretty as Yuja (also not their fault):

There are 22 instrument-only shots in one short concerto. Well the one below is excusable because it explains the muted sound of the instrument:

But isn't this still a better shot?

And we definitely don't benefit all that much from 61 shots of Abbado, so I'll not bother to show you even one of them. About half of the Abbado shots are  made over the backs of the musicians.  Ill will show you 3 off them. The first shot below is bad:



The Prokofiev segment was well played. But it is a typical DVD that has been republished in Blu-ray dress with slightly better resolution and probably better sound.  I deduct for lack of 96kHz/24-bit sound, weak resolution, and DVDitis to a "C", but I bump that up to a "C+" for the nice sound.

Now lets move to the main course: Mahler 1. We start with both an architectural shot (seen first below) and a whole-orchestra shot (seen second). Neither is very useful. Can you tell from this where the violas are? How many double-bass violins are on stage? How many horns there are?

We will count the next shot below as a whole-orchestra shot (at least 80% or so of the musicians). With sharp resolution, we could make out quite a bit from this shot. But what we have here is soft resolution (as we noted earlier in the concerto):

Well, I'll show you now a nice shot of the beloved Abbado. He seems healthy enough here and is fun to watch. But I still think it's a disservice to the orchestra to show even the greatest conductor 175 times in one symphony (here 118 times head-on and 57 times over the backs of musicians):

A typical "backs" shot from the symphony:

There are 135 solo clips, and next below is my favorite. You can hear the two harps wonderfully well throughout this recording. You get to see their hands and the harp strings multiple times. But finally, we get to see one of the ladies head-on while playing. I don't know who she is, but isn't she lovely! Watching her play for a few moments is enchanting:


And our old friends appear very often in the Mahler segment also:

Huge problems with focus:

There are only 6 shots in this whole symphony devoted to large sections! Next below is the only shot of all the cellos:

And next below is the best effort to get a view of the basses. How many basses are in this picture? How many are left out? The answer will be revealed soon:

This would be a nice view of brass row except that Beyer runs out of focus:

This is the symphony where all the horns stand up at the end to blast away. Everybody knows this is going to happen, and here's Beyer's pitiful effort to show this:

And now, just seconds before the end of the symphony, Beyer shows us the best shot from the whole recording---a whole-orchestra view with all the lower strings and so much more. Now we can see there are 12 violas in 2 rows plus 5 more near the double-basses. And now we can count 10 double-basses (hope I'm right about that). Why did Beyer wait so long to show us this? Why didn't he use this capability often throughout the whole symphony? My best guess would be that with DVD resolution, this shot looks like mush, and Beyer didn't consider it very useful. In 2009, it probably didn't occur to Beyer what he could do with his video for customers with HD TV. This is why DVDitis is so pernicious. If a title has DVDitis, it wasn't made for us.

Click here to see the Wonk Worksheet I ran on this Mahler 1. Let's run back though all the numbers again. A good HDVD should have a pace of 10 seconds per clip or more; subject title has the fast pace of 6.2 seconds per chip. We want supershots (large-scale views that benefit from HD) to run 20 to 40% of total clips; subject title has only 7% supershots. We look for conductor shots to run less than 20% of the film, but here the conductor gets 32% of the action. DVDs have lots of instrument only shots, and Beyer gives 40 of those. So we have here a near-terminal case of DVDitis. I deduct for lack of 96kHz/24-bit sound, weak resolution, and DVDitis to a "D-", but I bump that up to a "C-" for the fine performance and nice sound. It's now much easier to buy discs from Japan than before. The NHK Mahler Symphony No. 1 disc would be a better value than this recording from the Lucerne Festival.