Herbert Von Karajan

Vivaldi - The Four Seasons

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Details At A Glance

Category Music Biography - Cast
Programme Notes
Year Released 1990
Running Time
48:18 minutes
(not 46 minutes as stated on packaging) 
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Herbert Von Karajan
Ernst Wild 
Sony Classical 
Sony Music
Starring Herbert Von Karajan
Anne-Sophie Mutter
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Case Black Brackley
RPI $34.95 Music Antonio Vivaldi

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English (Linear PCM 2.0 48/16)
English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.33:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles No Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    It is somewhat difficult to believe nowadays, in the light of over 100 compact disc recordings of the works, but The Four Seasons was virtually unknown in the mid-1950s, and had been for over two hundred years. Mind you, in a comparatively short space of time, it has sure made up for it, with it now being the most recorded piece of classical music around. You can get The Four Seasons in all sorts of performances and in all sorts of price ranges on compact disc, so I guess it was kind of inevitable that it would be an early release on DVD. And so it is that the legacy of Herbert Von Karajan on video takes something of a hard turn away from the symphonic repertoire that has been its staple thus far and heads into the baroque repertoire that really is not the forte of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in my view. This time the orchestra is lead by Herbert Von Karajan from the continuo, with the solo violin parts being contributed by the Teutonic Ice Maiden, Anne-Sophie Mutter. She may be a talented fiddler, but does she actually enjoy doing what she does? Over the years, I have barely seen a photograph of her smiling, and this entire performance seems to draw its character from her Teutonic stolidity, and even in the very undeserved rapturous ovation at the conclusion of the work she barely cracks a smile.

    Antonio Vivaldi composed over 550 concertos of all kinds, and in that body of work he demonstrated an amazing degree of vitality and ingenuity and freshness that has resulted in the rediscovery over the last forty years of some truly wonderful music. Such gems as his 27 solo cello concertos are even today barely making it into the music catalogue, and yet the music borders upon the divine. So much of this great composer's work remains unrecorded, yet The Four Seasons get recorded so regularly that barely a month goes by without a new version appearing on compact disc somewhere around the world. Amongst all those recordings that have been made, there are a few stand-outs and a whole heap of dogs. I can with all honesty state that this is not a stand-out performance. Where it falls on the scale thereafter I leave to your imagination. The essence of Vivaldi's work, and indeed in all of the music of the Baroque period is in the freshness and vitality of the music. This is music that is as uplifting as you can get in purely orchestral music. You would not know it from this stolid and uninspiring performance. Recorded on 28th October, 1987 at the opening concert of the Chamber Music Hall at the Berlin Philharmonie, the audience ovation to the piece is sadly misguided. Mind you, in 1987 Herbert Von Karajan so ruled Berlin from a music point of view that had he come out and played chop sticks on a set of bongo drums, he would have received rave reviews. I believe the technical term is cloth ears - you would certainly need them to rave over this performance.

    A stolid, uninspiring performance of the most popular piece of classical music of all time, this is not something that I would be jumping up and down about. Add to that the fact that this has received a fairly mediocre video transfer and there is little to induce me to recommend it at all. You would need to be a seriously hard-core Herbert Von Karajan or Anne-Sophie Mutter fan to consider this worthy enough of indulging in a purchase.

Transfer Quality


     One thing that is at least remarkably consistent about these releases from the video legacy of Herbert Von Karajan is the fact that in general the quality of the video mastering does the best that it can with the source material available. This is another good example of a transfer that is limited by the source material.

     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced. This is another of the PAL transfers from Sony, presumably sourced from Europe, rather than an NTSC transfer.

     Unfortunately, this particular transfer suffers more than most releases in the series from the limitations of the source material. At best, the sharpness can only be described as average, as significant portions of the transfer seem to be subtly out-of-focus, and this is not aided by a rather restricted depth of field to the video. Combined with the rather more obviously out-of-focus sections of the video, and it has to be said that I am just a little disappointed with the image presented here. The overall detail is not particular great as a result, although the longer shots of the interior of the hall show a distinct improvement in this regard. Shadow detail is not much of an issue here as there is limited scope for it to become an issue thanks to the roundish design of the hall and the generally all-encompassing lighting adopted. What really harms the transfer is that it suffers quite extensively from grain, ranging from quite mild to pretty awful, with a tendency towards the latter end of the scale more frequently than the former end. There does not appear to be any significant problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    There is a distinct lack of quality in the colours here, although it has to be said that the rather muted colours are probably more the result of the clothing worn by the performers rather than anything else. Predominantly blacks, they are also mildly annoying in not really being deep in tone. The colour is distinctly light black/dark grey in feel rather than something nice and deep in colour. The overall tone seems to be a little on the anaemic side of the scale, and this really could have done with a bit of manipulating to overcome the blandness of the source material. There is no hint of oversaturation of colours at all and colour bleed is also not a problem.

    There are no problems with MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts are again confined to some minor aliasing problems, once again mainly on the string instruments. Film artefacts were absent from the transfer.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks on this DVD, the first being a Linear PCM 2.0 48kHz 16 bit soundtrack and the other being a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. They are described as English, even though there are no vocals on the DVD. I predominantly sampled the Dolby Digital soundtrack, although obviously sampling the Linear PCM soundtrack which is the default.

    There did not seem to be any problems with audio sync in the transfer.

    The first thing I noticed here is the fact that despite everything indicating that this is a 5.1 soundtrack, there is no action at all as far as I can tell out of the bass channel. It is suspected therefore that the bass channel is silent, since the .1 channel is certainly flagged to my player. Other than that, this is a remarkably unremarkable soundtrack! Surround channel use, both front and rear, is quite decent and there is a nice encompassing feel to the sound, but there is really nothing much in the way of dynamics in the soundtrack to allow the music to really sing (as The Four Seasons really should). This is partly the result of the style of playing adopted methinks, but also a reflection of the recording venue and engineering. I simply cannot help but feel that the strings were not given as much space in the mixing as was necessary, with the result that there seemed to be a little loss of detail in the string sound. However, this may also be a reflection of my lack of enthusiasm for the performance of Anne-Sophie Mutter. The Linear PCM 2.0 soundtrack is a much brighter sounding effort that seems to carry the string sound much better than the Dolby Digital soundtrack, much closer to the sort of biting string sound that you would get from a compact disc recording, and the sort of sound that makes this music sing. Personally, I much prefer the brighter string sound of this soundtrack than the surround enhancement of the Dolby Digital soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    Well at least it is consistent with the other boring-looking efforts in the series.

Biography-Herbert Von Karajan

    A decent if not especially voluminous effort. Given the capacity of the DVD format though, I would have thought that a more extensive effort would not go astray, nor would a few more photographs of one of the most famous conductors of the twentieth century.

Programme Notes

    Reasonable enough stuff again I suppose, but again I cannot help but feel that more could have been done here with both the composer and the composition.

R4 vs R1

    As far as I can determine, the Region 1 and Region 4 versions have identical content, making Region 4 the version of choice owing to PAL formatting.


    Another typical example of the Herbert Von Karajan legacy on home video, albeit in repertoire not entirely suited to the vaunted strings of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The whole programme is let down by a fairly stolid performance in my view from Anne-Sophie Mutter and I have to rate this is a disappointment. It is also a pity that some variety could not be shown in the extras package - I would have thought that Anne-Sophie Mutter could at least have rated a few pages of biographical notes.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
1st November 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL