HDVD stands for “High-Definition Video Discs” and also for “High-Definition Video Download (Including Streaming).” Voices of Music is a non-profit performance project focused on early music (mostly before 1800) based in San Francisco. Their main activity is giving live performances in California. But thanks to co-director David Tayler, they are also taking a lead in making recordings of early music available to all. Their most important recording initiative is to publish YouTube videos, most of which run from 2 to 15 minutes. Typically, a video is devoted to a single piece of music. The musical forces playing range from soloists to complete chamber orchestras. Usually, each video is supported by a donor who underwrites expenses.
Of the 196 YouTube videos published by May 2019, about 100 are in 4K! About 80 are in 1080i (which we call 2K on this website). There are about 17 titles in 720i, which are also technically HD. But after you have seen a few of their 4K clips, the 2K recordings are overshadowed and the 720 recordings look like DVDs!
Almost all of these recording seem to be made at live performances. PQ is phenomenal. The sound is stereo, but that seem adequate for the relatively small forces involved. Many of the performers are world-class elite musicians. Others appear to be local professional or maybe even semi-professional players. All would have special qualifications in early music or world music performances. And all can be seen bursting with pride and joy as they show us what they can do with all those old or unusual instruments!
Now to some screenshots, all of which look pretty good on our 2K website. But these image don’t do the Voices justice. When I first started watching 4K Voices of Music videos on my 65” 4K display, I was startled to see how incredible clean and clear they all looked and how good they sound. (I have sworn an oath to never use the word “stunning” on this website. So “startled” will have to do).
I start with a 3-minute clip from a performance by the FestspielOrchester Göttingen in Germany of Handel’s Water Music. This would be one of the larger ensembles connected with the Voices project; co-director Hanneke van Proosdij, an early keyboard and recorder expert, frequently works with this group. The clip is just long enough to get you salivating and bemoaning that you can’t have the whole thing in 4K.
In this short clip I count 10 whole-orchestra shots, 6 multi-section views, and 3 close-ups. The pace rounds off to 10 seconds per clip. There are no conductor shots because the conductor is leading from the keyboard, there is no shot of the conductor over backs of musicians, and not a single instrument-only view. So there’s no DVDitis! (It appears Voices of Music has never made a DVD.)
Most of the videos are full performances of shorter works. Next below is a shot of the dynamic Alana Youssefian, about 25 at the time, bringing to life with gusto the Vivaldi Violin Concerto in D Major RV212 while playing a baroque violin (she also plays the modern instrument). Her playing is impressively fast, accurate, and musical all at the same time. And she has so much fun knocking it out!
Next below is a shot from the Schubert Piano Trio in E-Flat, Op. 100. I’m used to an old RCA Red Seal recording of this on LP by Rubinstein, Szeryng, and Fournier (stiff competition!) who turn in a sublimely clean, civilized, orderly, and mournful account. In contrast, The Voices of Music clip (about a fourth of the whole work) seems rather rowdy and emotional:
The Voices bring in singers. Here Christopher Lowrey delivers “Ombra ma fu” from Handel’s Serse. You have to see and hear this to believe it. It even has subtitles!:
We recently reviewed Handel’s under-appreciated oratorio Theodora with Christine Schäfer as Theodora. Next below we see Stefanie True singing the Theodora air “Angels ever bright and fair.” After an A/B comparison, I’ll give the nod to True. (But this was not a fair fight: Schäfer has to sing this deep in a 3-hour opera performance and while being carried across the stage by Septimius.)
To me the most impressive video I’ve seen of the Voices (I haven’t auditioned them all!) is the 12-minute Musical Crossroads, which isn’t early music at all. It’s a modern composition by Hanneke van Proosdij scored for kamancha, percussion, lute, harp, recorder, and strings. It’s a perfect blend of old and new, east and west, ensemble and soloists, and rhythm and melody that sounds both traditional and progressive! Marvelous!
Well, if you would like to check this out, try YouTube or the Voices website at voicesofmusic.org. The 196+ selections you will find are for now mostly teasers to introduce you to their work, invite you to their concerts, and drum up support from sponsors. Maybe they have the ambition to one day put together programs of complete performances for streaming and also Blu-ray. But for sure they provide examples of what the industry could do in the future with the technology now available.