DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD-Video Reviews, Part 1 of 2


Published on July 1, 2004


Part 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]

Rubeinstein Remembered Paradiso videro oratorio Sinfonia Antarctica Claudio Abbado documentary
Jane Olivor - Safe Return Music with a View - Evening Music with a View - Time for Love

***Seven Music Videos***

Rubenstein Remembered DVD
RUBINSTEIN REMEMBERED: PBS American Masters – (1987)
DVD plus CD

Studio: RCA Legendary Visions Series
Video: 4:3 Color and B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Length: 57:30
Included CD Audio = CHOPIN: 6 Mazurkas; Polonaise No. 6; Scherzo No. 3 in C# Minor; Ballade No. 1 in G Minor/POULENC: Mouvements perpetuels/FALLA: Ritual Fire Dance TT: 51:57:

Actor John Rubinstein affectionately narrates this 100th birthday tribute to his father Artur Rubinstein (1887-1992), candidly tracing the great, Polish pianist’s birth in Lodz, Poland, through his subsequent development and maturity as an artist and as a man, husband, and father, and finally as a devoted Jew supporting the State of Israel. Using family photos, home movies, and some film and newsreel footage, we have ample testimony from Artur Rubinstein himself on his fateful suicide attempt and his consequent epiphany, his decision to embrace life with all its pains and glories. We have a visual record of the bon vivant and musician who became a spiritual force for all the world.

Much of the video is set in Lodz, Poland, where John Rubinstein accepted an invitation to conduct the local orchestra in his own music, Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a piece his father had played many times. In the audience is John’s mother, whose own father led the Lodz opera orchestra a century prior. “My father had such a keen sense of what was Polish in music,” quips John. We see mother and son walking by the Chopin statue in Lodz, where so many years before, Artur proposed to the daughter of the local conductor. Artur comments on his early, youthful virtuosity and its lack of discipline; son John recounts how 1934 became the crucial year, where Artur took a sabbatical from concert life to practice eight to ten hours a day, to make himself an accurate pianist as well as a temperamental artist, one of whom his wife could be proud.

We hear the ubiquitous Mazurka in D, Op. 33, No. 2 act as a kind of leitmotif through the narration, adding a Polish lilt to the internationalism of the subject. In home videos, we see Heifetz and Piatagorsky working with Rubinstein in Hollywood. There are photos of Rubinstein with actor Basil Rathbone. We see Rubinstein in a moment from the film Carnegie Hall. We see Rubinstein in the RCA studios; and producer Max Wilcox and John share memories of the complete Mazurkas, of which the final recordings in the 1970’s Rubinstein was most happy. We see the generations of Rubinstein children growing up, the striking resemblances between John and young Artur. Rubinstein recalls having to play the Etude, Op. 25, No. 11 for a teacher, a piece he displays but never managed to record. We see him in concert, poetically realizing Chopin’s Concerto in E Minor; but John also recalls Rubinstein’s affection and success with Spanish music, his first, truly international, musical triumph.

The pace and loving tempo of the reminiscence is so thoughtful, so full of music and memories, the 57-plus minutes virtually fly by, all too quickly. We can feel the palpable, vivacious presence of the man and the pianist. When John recounts how, as a son, he felt he could see into his father’s soul when Rubinstein made music, we feel we have had that selfsame vision all along.

–Gary Lemco

Paradiso - Video Oratorio Paradiso – Video Oratorio (2003)

Soloists/North Netherlands Concerto Choir and Orchestra/Alexander Liebreich
Composer: Jacob Ter Veldhuis
Video Artists: Pulsatu
Studio: Pulsatu/Ciris/Chandos Records
Video: 16:9 enhanced for widescreen, Side1: PAL; Side 2: NTSC
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles: English, French, German
Length: 86 minutes
Rating: *****

[See also the review of the multichannel SACD Chandos recording of this work in our Hi-Res section Part 1 this month.] Described as a video oratorio for soprano, tenor, sampler, female choir and orchestra, this work is not easy to explain. Composer Ter Velduis has created a musical and visual journey in search of beauty and harmony, ecstasy and bliss, using both themes from Dante’s Divine Comedy as well as from the space program, Biblical impressions of Eden, meditative states, drugged-out trumpeter Chet Baker, fundamentalist evangelists, paintings of Heronymous Bosch and even erotic nudes in the throes of, well…you know. Whew! You definitely have to see the video to grasp the sense of the music. The full-screen trippy images are shared with a frequently-appearing strip near the bottom of the screen showing on four or five small screens in a strip the various performers, conductor and orchestra in action – usually in monochromatic images over the brilliant colors of the larger video. (There were times when I wanted a button to eliminate this strip to focus on the beautiful images on the screen.)

Here are the 16 sections of the work, which should explain a bit about its structure and sense: To Ignition, Aurora, Cielo del Sole, Cielo della Luna, Heaven on Earth, A Sound from Heaven!, Garden of Eden, Heaven of Love, Heaven of Lust, Cielo di Saturno, Heaven of Religion, Nirvana, Luce Divina, Heaven of Narcotics, Primo Mobile, Empireo. The oratorio focuses on the heavenly light and is full of images of angels and souls ascending to heaven. NASA footage from the moon shot is integrated into several of the sections. As an example, here is the description for the first section – To Ignition: “Dante’s long journey thru Hell has come to an end. He is allowed to ascend further. Free from the earth he rises to the heavenly spheres and is thus a witness to the Apollo 12 expedition to the moon.”

The moon shot images keep returning, as does the image of an evangelist who is first heard in the Heaven on Earth section. He preaches that Nirvana is unreachable for ordinary mortals. His constant image and especially his shouting and distorted voice become rather annoying. Another image that is repeatedly endlessly is that of myriad angels and just ordinary folks ascending heavenward. The video special effect is very effective, and it does fit the music which attempts to recreate Dante’s heavenly harmony using an ultra-tonal approach, but the angels were a bit much for me after awhile. In some closeups (which seemed unnecessary) one sees laughing young people dancing around with fabric wings strapped to their shoulders. One section which does work visually is Heaven of Love, which emulates the famous Bosch triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” with multiple images of a nude couple encased in bubbles ascending heavenward. The DVD comes with a complete libretto of the oratorio in three languages. And it’s definitely not all Dante quotations. The Angel in Heaven of Lust says, “oh ahw oh God oh yes! yes! Yes!…” for example.

If the DVD came with a DTS 5.1 soundtrack I would be more excited about it. An A/B comparison of the DD 5.1 track with the Chandos SACD reviewed in our Hi-Res section showed the SACD to be more spatial, clearer, and displaying a better frontal soundstage. I did an A/B employing only the front left and right channels, and the contrast between the two formats was about like going from a $200 CD player to a $2000 one. The many big soloist/choral/orchestral climaxes were better handled by the SACD version, and even the annoying voice of the evangelist – though still distorted – was somehow less annoying. So if you want to accompany this fascinating video with the best reproduction of the sound (and can afford to buy the work twice) I suggest you get both and start them up in sync with one another. It’s quite easy to do, and the occasional small images of the performers superimposed on the screen in a strip of four or five shots shouldn’t bother viewers if they are slightly out of sync. This project would have lent itself to the video DVD + audio DVD approach taken by EMI in their release of Sir Simon Rattle’s Mahler Fifth performance. However, Chandos did solve one problem by offering a double-sided DVD with one side the European PAL system and the other the North American NTSC system.

- John Sunier

Sinfonia Antarctica Sinfonia Antarctica (2002)
“A visual and musical tribute to the frozen continent”

Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performed by: the New Zealand Sym. Orch./James Judd
Studio: Pangaea Entertainment
Video: 4:3 full frame color & B&W; dual layer PAL & NTSC compatible
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Extras: 3 productions: The VW Symphony with Antartic images, Icebound (the story of Antarctic exploration, The Unframed Continent (3 artists traveling Antartica and responding with poems and paintings), Reflections from Antarctica, Antarctic Facts, Lonely Planet Travel Guide, Websites on Antarctica
Length: 150 minutes total for all 3
Rating: ****

Just the thing to watch in this 98-degree weather! Enjoyed it immensely! Love those penguins! Seriously, this is fine quartet of video presentations – although you wouldn’t want to watch all at one sitting. There is quite a bit of re-use of much of the more striking footage to accompany different story lines or music. The main feature here is an impressive “music video” which employs a variety of dramatic images of Antartica to fit the five movements of Vaughan Williams’ complete Symphony No. 7, subtitled “Sinfonia Antartica.” Some of this music was originally the soundtrack of the film “Scott of the Antarctic,” but VW later re-fashioned it into his Seventh Symphony. In addition to beautiful and threatening landscape views of the continent, the visuals include historic footage of various Antarctic explorations, underwater footage, and time lapse photography. Each movement is prefaced by an appropriate quotation, such as the last note Scott wrote before freezing to death only 18 miles from the final camp on his ill-fated journey back from the South Pole. The performance is first rate and the remastering of the original materials for 5.1 surround well carried out.

Icebound is a 52-minute documentary on the golden age of exploration on the continent.The adventures and failures of Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and others are described, and there are interviews with Sir Edmund Hilary and others who explored Antarctica more recently – detailing some of the many dangers to be considered even with modern equipment and gear. The Unframed Continent tours around Antarctica with a poet, writer and painter who respond to the intense experience with their poems and artwork. The last short documentary – Reflections from Antarctica – is actually a tour of the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand, which is a treasure store of artifacts from the early explorations of Antarctica.

- John Sunier

Claudio Abbado musical portrait Claudio Abbado – A Portrait (1996)
“The Silence That Follows the Music”

Director: Paul Smaczny
Studio: EuroArts/ArtHaus Musik
Video: 4:3 full frame
Audio: PCM Stereo, English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: ArtHaus Musik trailer
Length: 60 minutes
Rating: ****

This absorbing documentary on conductor Abbado gives the viewer an inside look at the dedication, philosophy and enthusiasm of one of the world’s top conductors today. Short over a two-year period, the film includes rehearsals and excerpts from performances with three orchestras with which Abbado is involved: The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, filmed in Venice; The Berlin Philharmonic, filmed in Salzburg at an Easter Festival; and The Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, filmed in Paris. Among the music performed is Schubert;s Second Symphony, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, an excerpt from Richard Strauss’ opera Elektra, Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, and the Third Piano Concerto of Beethoven (with soloist Maria Joao Pires). Images and sound are uniformly excellent, and sound-wise one aspect that will immediately strike many viewers is the ease with which Abbado switches from speaking English to German to French to Italian, depending on the environment or the primary nationality of his particular orchestra. Four interview portions are seen besides the direct interviewing of Abbado himself: with fellow conductors Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim and friend actor Maximilian Schell. The latter conversation over dinner illustrates quite strongly the contrast between Schell’s very Germanic world view and Abbado’s more gentle and humane Italian view. The enclosed 20-page booklet has more information on the conductor. Though an extremely tasteful production, I can’t image wanting to view this DVD again in future. And unfortunately few of this type of music DVD will be found at rental outlets.

- John Sunier

Jane Olivor DVD Jane Olivor- Safe Return (2003)
Studio: Image Entertainment
Video: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, 2.0 Stereo
Extras: Jane Olivor Interview
Length: 86 minutes
Rating: **** (for those who like this type of music)

Piano, keyboard, and bass accompany Olivor. I would liken her to Barbra Streisand, but the truth is female vocalists aren’t my bag, so there may be other artists out there who would be a better comparison. She has a rich, full voice with good range, although not like an opera singer. The songs are optimistic, soft and caring, peppy, sometimes somber, and speak of love. Some of tunes seem a bit sappy to me, although the audience seems to love it. Apparently, the concert takes place in Berkeley, although the audience doesn’t appear to be particularly diverse in makeup. The camera work is good in that there is focus almost exclusively on the artist, and only occasionally on the rest of the band. It also doesn’t jerk around like other concert videos I’ve seen lately. Color and video quality is excellent much like the audio quality. Some of the songs are preceded by explanations by the artist. For more background information you can check out a 25 minute interview where Jane expounds on her rise to stardom and other relevant facts about her life.

Songs included: You; Warm; Let’s Make Some Memories; Annie’s Song; The Last Time I Felt Like this; The Hardest Part of Love; Daydreams; Carousel of Love; Crowded Island; Brooklyn Roads; Run for the Roses; I Got the Sun in the Morning; Some Enchanted Evening; The Big Parade; Pretty Girl; You Don’t Know How Beautiful You Are; Sippin’ Wine; How Are Things in Glocca Morra?/Ailein Duinn; Stay the Night; The Right Garden; One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round; L’Important C’est la Rose; Love of Another Kind; Safe Return; I Believe; Where There Is Love; Let’s Make Some Memories (Reprise).

-Brian Bloom

Music With a View – 2 DVDs (2003)

Jazzscapes: Into the Evening
Jazzscapes: A Time for Love

Visuals: Mark Krnweibel
Studio: Concord Records
Video: 4:3 full frame (but looks find stretched to 16:9 too)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Extras: 4 different options using Angle button on remote – Into the Evening: Sunset Visions, Tim Lapse Sunsets, Painted Sunsets, Artist & CD Information. A Time for Love: Candlelight Visions, Live Fireplace, Moonlit Waters, Artist & CD Information.
Rating: ****

More of the jazz samplers on DVD from Concord, accompanied by a variety of appropriate on-screen artistic images. The label’s world-class jazz artists combine with complementary ambiance-creating images that can be watched with fascination or just regarded as a wonderful background environment along with the music in surround. The Evening DVD features a series of filmed sunsets as the Angle One selection, sunsets shot with time lapse equipment as Angle Two, and for Angle Three it appears a computer program was used which turns live-action video into moving impressionistic paintings or animations. This one was the favorite of several people who watched the DVD. Or you can just display the title and performers on each musical selection, which changes on screen as the music progresses. A Time for Love offers the three options of closeups of burning candles, a live burning fireplace, or again the impressionistic moving images of moonlight on the ocean.

The 11 tracks of the first DVD are by Scott Hamilton, Marian McPartland, Peter Cincotti, Charlie Byrd Trio, Poncho Sanchez, Herb Ellis, Stan Getz, Karrin Allyson, Joey DeFrancesco, Kenny Burrell and Gary Burton.
The 10 tracks of the second DVD are by Al Cohn Curtis Stigers, Scott Hamilton, Susannah McCorkle, Hank Jones, Joe Beck, Poncho Sanchez, Mary Stallings with Gene Harris, Cal Tjader and Joey DeFrancesco.

- John Henry




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