DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

San Francisco Symphony at 100, Blu-ray (2011)

Best Sound and Image of any music Blu-ray I’ve seen yet this year.

Published on July 7, 2012

San Francisco Symphony at 100, Blu-ray (2011)

San Francisco Symphony/ Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.
Violin soloist: Itzhak Perlman
Narrator: Amy Tan
Director: Gary Halvorson
Selections: COPLAND: Billy the Kid ballet suite; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E minor; BRITTEN: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; JOHN ADAMS: Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Studio: SFS Media [6/12/12] (Distr. by Harmonia mundi)
Video: 16:9 1080i HD color
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD (96K/24-bit) 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: Spanish, closed-caption English
Extras: Historical documentary narrated by Amy Tan, More on 100-your history of Symphony
Length: 146 minutes
Rating: *****

In September of last year Michael Tilson Thomas the San Francisco Symphony launched the orchestra’s Centennial Season with a Gala Concert at Davis Symphony Hall titled “Fanfare for a New Century.” The concert was telecast nationally on PBS, and included not only famed violinist Itzhak Perlman but also dynamic pianist Lang Lang. However, the Lang Lang concerto performance is not part of this Blu-ray for some reason. However, I don’t know it could possibly be otherwise improved as a terrific concert video presentation.

The historical background of the symphony is quite interesting, and it is available either in portions with Amy Tan during the concert or separately as a documentary in the extras. It stresses how exceptional and lucky the symphony was to get conductor Pierre Monteux, who had conducted the wild premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Of course the symphony is also lucky to have had top-flight conductor Michael Tilson Thomas all these years as well.

The new Dolby higher-res version of 5.1 surround is featured on the Blu-ray, and the enhancement of the sonics is clearly discernible. The images and shots of the players are also the highest quality I have ever seen on a music video, though that could be partly because I just set up my new Panasonic plasma display using a couple of the Blu-ray test discs. The closeups of Itzhak Perlman during the Mendelssohn Concerto are something to behold, especially the increase in his smiling during the closing movement. Not to mention his superb performance, which kept me listening even though I had first intended to skip this selection in viewing the concert. MTT also communicates such a variety of facial expressions; quite a contrast to some stern and frozen-faced conductors. Copland’s Suite is skillfully and often tenderly executed, and the program’s encore—Adams’ exhilarating Short Ride in a Fast Machine—is accompanied by fast-moving images of San Francisco projected over the heads of the audience and musicians.

This is a music video that should be in every concert music fan’s library. Only for some odd reason, the Blu-ray version is currently double the price of the DVD version at Amazon, but much cheaper at the SF Symphony Store, plus you can get a 10% discount with the code “Dolby.”

—John Sunier




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