Vivaldi-Four Seasons, The (London Mozart Players) (DVD-Audio) (2001) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Jul-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Booklet
Biographies-Cast
Notes-Programme
Notes-Recording Techniques
Credits
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 62:29
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor
Naxos
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring London Mozart Players
David Juritz
Case DVD-Audio Jewel
RPI $19.95 Music Antonio Vivaldi


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.0 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.0
English MLP 96/24 5.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    In an earlier review of a performance of The Four Seasons by Herbert von Karajan, I mentioned that the music had until the mid-1950s been virtually unknown. The four concertos are drawn from a collection of twelve known as Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, published as Antonio Vivaldi's Opus 8. Don't read too much into the opus number - there were only twelve sets of concertos given opus numbers and these were ones produced for the tawdry purpose of making money. Yes, so popular was he at the time, The Red Priest could have publishers publish his works for profit. What remains astounding is that despite the publication of the twelve sets of concertos with opus numbers, his work remained virtually unknown in the music world until the mid-1950s. It was only when I Musici started recording the twelve sets of concertos that the works became more well known in the broader world. Despite that modest improvement in the fortunes of Vivaldi's wonderful music, there have to this day been very few recordings of the full Opus 8. Yet the first four concertos from the set, given the name The Four Seasons, have gone on to become the most recorded pieces of classical music of all time. Aside from pure classical recordings, which would easily number in the several hundreds by now, there have been all sorts of variations done with synthesisers, piano accordions and many more instruments. There would hardly be a classical recording company that does not have a least one, and in many cases many more, recording in their catalogue. If you want to start a new classical recording company, this is probably the place you start. Yet what is this fascination with The Four Seasons? By no means the best stuff that Antonio Vivaldi ever composed, even within the full Opus 8 there are better concertos. Certainly there are far more treasured works of Antonio Vivaldi in my extensive CD collection - the 27 solo cello concertos, for instance.

    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. This dazzling display of wondrous music is despite the fact that by his own boasts he could write a new concerto virtually at the drop of a hat! 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. Even outside of his concertos, there is superb music awaiting discovery. His vocal music is wonderful, yet how many recordings have been made of his operas? If you want to hear superb sacred music, then Antonio Vivaldi is your man - and Hyperion your recording company. Yet all that most of the population knows about Antonio Vivaldi is contained within the four concertos of The Four Seasons.

    Of course, with over two hundred recordings to choose from, there are a lot of them that are nothing more than rubbish. Many are good but lack distinctiveness or distinction. Of those two hundred plus recordings, very few could genuinely be called superb — on period instruments, the recording by Tafelmusik, and on modern instruments, the 1970 recording of Sir Neville Mariner with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, spring to mind. So too does the original recording by I Musici. However, that vast body of recordings means that every newcomer into the market bears intense scrutiny to see if they are worthy of consideration. It is no easy task to release a Four Seasons nowadays and make it stand out in the market. So when Naxos decided to branch into DVD-Audio, its choice of music was logical enough, but what of the recording?

    For those that don't know, Naxos started out as a budget-price label back in the 1980s and has since gone on to become a fully fledged classical recording label with the arguably the most varied catalogue in the classical music world. They continue to be a budget-price label but the music you can find in their catalogue is top drawer. There are composers to be found in their catalogue that you find in very few others, if any. The quality of their recordings has now become generally very good and they have been recognised with awards of the ilk of the prestigious Gramophone Awards. So successful have they been since establishment that the long established companies have done their best to get rid of this upstart company — and have failed miserably. Naxos is now arguably the most dominant classical music label in the world and they have a reputation to uphold. So when they decided to move into DVD-Audio, it was important that they did it right. So they took their most recent recording session of The Four Seasons and proceeded to release it to general acclaim. Not only did the recording meet with general acclaim but the price point for the disc did too - note that $19.95 price tag. Makes you wonder why this label can release a new recording onto DVD-Audio and at this price point, when competitors seem to be able to only release older, often superannuated, recordings at higher price points.

    So how does the performance stand up? Very well, is the short answer. I have something like fifteen recordings of the works in my CD collection and this is not the best that I have. But it certainly is up there amongst the top three or four. The music of Antonio Vivaldi is noted for its lightness and vivacity, and that is where many recordings fail. This one does not fail in that regard, and bears repeated listenings with relative ease — as this review session proved. While it could have been a little more light and airy, the performances are very good and well worth investigating. The London Mozart Players have never disappointed me with their CD recordings and continue that trend with their first DVD-Audio disc. I would recommend this DVD-Audio disc to all, but where do you get it? Yes, it is a local release and should be available with ease from local suppliers. Since there is not an online retailer with this for sale however, I would not attest to the ease of obtaining the disc locally. Persistence would be rewarded however.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    There is no video on the disc, as everything comprises NTSC menus and still photographs. There are no issues with these at all, and the photographs are generally quite excellent.

Audio

    There are three soundtracks on this disc, being the DVD-Video compatible Dolby Digital 5.0 448 kb/s soundtrack and dts 5.0 soundtrack, together with the DVD-Audio only MLP 96 kHz/24 bit 5.0 soundtrack. I listened to all three soundtracks in their entirety.

    The first thing that needs to be mentioned is the way in which the soundtracks have been mixed. In a very refreshing change, these are detailed in the booklet and the production technique notes on the disc itself. The Four Seasons have been recorded with the rear channels being used solely to provide some of the natural ambience of the recording venue. Accordingly, the rear surrounds appear to convey no information - but rest assured they do. The other tracks on the disc, the Concertos for Double Orchestras are mixed in an entirely different manner. The two orchestras are separately mixed, one in the front channels and one in the rear channels. The soloist, who normally stands between the two orchestras is mixed into the front channels, but quite centrally. The result is about as natural soundscape as you could achieve for such double orchestra performances - and something that we have never really heard in digital form until now.

    The DVD-Video compatible dts 5.0 soundtrack is a very nice effort indeed, although the lack of bass is something of an ear-opener. The music of course does not have need for any significant bass, other than the natural bass from the double bass that is not really present here. The dts sound has a degree of body to it and this is where the lack of bass is really not noticed that much. This full-bodied sound is very easy on the ears and the music really shines in this sort of sound. The rear channels really do sound silent, with very minimal ambience obvious. The front surround channels are very nicely handled though and you do get the impression of sitting in the church listening to the recording sessions. In the two double concertos the front to rear switching between the two orchestras are really obvious, perhaps a little too obvious at times. However, the effectiveness of the style of mixing is certainly easy to hear.

    The DVD-Video compatible Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack is also a very nice effort, although the lack of bass is a bit more obvious here - as is the slightly thinner and stringier sound. Compensating for this slightly thinner sound is a more obvious degree of presence out of the rear channels. The overall result is still not quite as good as the dts soundtrack, but remains a very good sound. The lack of body is perhaps only where you notice the lack of the bass channel. The front surround channels are again well handled, although the sound is not as frontal as in the dts soundtrack. The double concertos are much better handled here, with a far greater degree of subtlety to the front to rear switching. It sounds far less obvious and analytical here.

    The DVD-Audio MLP 5.0 soundtrack, whilst being very similar in many respects to the other two soundtracks, is quite clearly the best soundtrack of the three. The rear channels are significantly improved here, and the ambience is quite obvious. With the less analytical sound to the strings, and a smoother frontal soundscape, this presents a much more inviting soundtrack that really makes you feel as if you are in the presence of the musicians. The sound is much more open and the detail in the sound is quite wonderful. It might not be the very finest MLP soundtrack that we have heard, but it certainly is one of the better ones that classical music has been given thus far.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    While it might not be an awe-inspiring contribution to the format, it bears comparison with much more expensive releases with ease.

Booklet

    A decent eight page effort, providing not just notes about the composer, the music and the performers, but also the recording and the pictures that the music is trying to evoke.

Biographies (3)

    Repeating the biographies for Antonio Vivaldi, David Juritz and the London Mozart Players. Interesting and informative, if not necessarily as encompassing as they possibly could be, running to nine pages of on-screen text.

Notes - Programme

    Four pages of on-screen text repeating those from the booklet.

Notes - Recording Techniques

    Three pages of on-screen text basically repeating the sections out of the booklet.

Credits

    Merely promotional opportunities for the three companies involved in the production of the DVD - one page for each company.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This DVD-Audio is identical in content and format around the world.

Summary

    The most popular classical music in the world, on a very good DVD-Audio disc at a very fair price? Sounds like a winning combination to me! Highly recommended, even though some might have quibbles regarding the presentation of the sound. If this is the sort of quality we can expect from Naxos DVD-Audio discs, then I for one will look forward to every release. If you have trouble locating this disc, I would suggest that you contact the distributors, Sonart, direct. They do have a web site (www.sonart.com.au) but it is infuriating to use and rarely up to date. If you happen to live in Perth, then I do know that Wesley Classics either have the discs in stock or can get them in for you (a plug for them since they at least did help me get these discs when no one else seemed to know about them).

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, April 28, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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