Lucerne Festival: The First 5 Years (Brendel/Pollini/Abbado) (2006) (NTSC)

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Released 6-Sep-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-From Toscanini to Abbado: The History of the Lucerne Festiva
Bonus Track-Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4-Maurizio Pollini
Multiple Angles-Conductor Camera
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 335:00 (Case: 425)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL
Multi Disc Set (5)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Michael Beyer
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Claudio Abbado
Alfred Brendel
Eteri Gvazava
Rachel Harnisch
Case Gatefold
RPI $139.95 Music Gustav Mahler
Claude Debussy
Ludwig Van Beethoven

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Audio dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Audio Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    The Swiss city of Lucerne was first identified as a possible site for a music festival in 1910, but for various reasons the first major musical performances did not take place until 1937 when Ernest Ansermet brought his Suisse Romande orchestra to the city. The following year Arturo Toscanini conducted a series of festival concerts which were broadcast internationally on radio, and the festival was under way, almost instantly becoming an annual landmark.

    While it was well known for the appearance of many of the world's top orchestras, notably the Berlin Philharmonic, there was also a festival orchestra featuring mainly Swiss musicians. Due to costs and falling standards the orchestra was disbanded in 1993. After at least one attempt to reconstitute the ensemble it was not until 2003 that a more or less permanent Lucerne Festival Orchestra was created. The new orchestra was the brainchild of conductor Claudio Abbado and featured members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Hagen Quartet, the Alban Berg Quartet and the Sabine Meyer Wind Ensemble (including Meyer herself), as well as players hand-picked from the Berlin Philharmonic and other prominent European orchestras.

    This box set features concerts from the years 2003 to 2006, including the orchestra's first ever concert in 2003. The subtitle of the box set is "the first 5 years" though the content spans just three years and four festivals. No matter. The first four discs are reissues of discs previously released separately, one from each festival, and the fifth disc is a bonus not previously released. Also included is a documentary on the history of the festival.

    Disc One contains the documentary and the inaugural concert, which features two works by Debussy: a suite from Le Martyre de San Sébastien (with sopranos Rachel Harnisch and Eteri Gvazava) and La Mer. Disc Two has Mahler's Fifth Symphony, while Disc Three has the Piano Concerto No 3 by Beethoven performed by Alfred Brendel, plus Bruckner's Seventh Symphony. Disc Four contains Mahler's epic Sixth Symphony. The bonus disc has another Beethoven piano concerto, this time the Fourth played by the Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini. He also can be heard singing along with his playing, which is one possible explanation why this has not been issued separately. In each case the conductor is Abbado.

    The orchestra has occasionally played outside the festival, and were scheduled to perform in New York in October 2007, but the tour was cancelled when Abbado was advised by his doctors to cancel all engagements. Fortunately this latest problem was not related to his bout with stomach cancer seven years ago and he has recently resumed conducting.

    The performances in this set are all first-rate, particularly the Mahler symphonies which Abbado has recorded more than once. The Bruckner is slightly less successful and does not seem to take off as it should. However there is plenty of fine playing here and with excellent sound and (mostly) very good video this box set is a bargain.

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Transfer Quality


    Each concert is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The video is in NTSC format, and was viewed upscaled to 1280x720p.

    The video quality of each concert is similar. The video looks very good and while there are flaws, particularly in the area of aliasing, it is still an excellent video presentation. It looks as though the original was recorded in high definition. There is plenty of detail and clarity. The occasional wide shot showing the entire concert hall is lacking in detail but otherwise it is better than other discs I have reviewed recently.

    The image is bright, thanks to bright lighting, and contrast levels are good. This results in a high level of shadow detail. Colour is reasonably vivid. It should be noted that in Le Martyre de San Sébastien on Disc One there are some video effects in the second movement where parts of the image are bleached of colour.

    There are quite a few video artefacts. The most noticeable is aliasing. This is regularly present on the strings, on Abbado's clothes and even on the grain of the cellos. Each instance seems minor but it is distracting. It is probably at its worst in the first movement of Beethoven's Third, where the walls of the concert hall seem to vibrate with motion. This video seems to have a problem with moire on the detail of the performers' shirts.

    There is also some noticeable pixellation, especially in Le Martyre de San Sébastien where low level noise is visible. Edge enhancement seems to be the norm in each recording, though the haloes it produces are generally thin. There is also some motion blurring.

    Optional English subtitles are available for the vocal work. I did not notice any issues with them and they are easy to read being in white with dark borders.

    Each disc apart from the bonus disc is RSDL-formatted. Generally the layer breaks are positioned between works or between movements. However in the Mahler Fifth the break occurs within a movement, at a brief silent pause. It is noticeable visually but did not seem to affect the music, so the spot was well chosen.

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


    Each of these discs has the usual Euroarts audio selection, being Linear PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. As usual I listened to the DTS tracks in full and sampled the others.

    The audio quality on each disc is excellent. The orchestra seems to have been carefully miked and mixed so that all of the instruments appear in the soundstage in roughly the same position that they would appear to the audience. The front channels are blended together so that the three speakers provide a single, unified soundstage. At the same time individual instruments can sometimes be picked out. There is a wide dynamic range - try the first couple of minutes of Mahler's Fifth which starts out in pianissimo and then quickly becomes a massive crescendo.

    The rear channels are used to mimic the concert hall acoustic and aside from audience noises do not draw attention to themselves. The low frequency effects channel carries a lot of information, and the subwoofer is often in continuous use, not just applying emphasis to the drum beats but also filling in the lower string sounds.

    The Dolby Digital tracks are much the same as the DTS tracks, albeit at a lower volume level and with a slightly less integrated sound. The Linear PCM track is probably best for conveying the sounds of the orchestras and soloists, with all of the sonorities relatively intact, but it loses the presence and naturalism of the surround tracks.

    There were no issues with audio sync.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The set comes in a gatefold digipack enclosed in a cardboard slipcase.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    The disc menus are animated with video from the concerts contained on them. The menus on the first two discs are not 16x9 enhanced. The menus on the last couple of discs have audio from the works on the discs.


    The booklet contains essays on the music and the performances, a brief history of the festival and some paragraphs by Abbado and the festival director.

Trailers (39:51)

    Each of the first four discs has four trailers apiece, a total of sixteen in all. All are trailers for other concerts from the same company, many of which are from the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and some of which are for discs included in this set.

Featurette-From Toscanini to Abbado: The History of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (51:11)

    This documentary is included on the first disc and thus has the history of the festival, not just the orchestra, up to 2003. It contains plenty of old film footage from the festival, plus historical interviews and excerpts from a TV documentary made for the 50th anniversary celebrations in 1988, all of which have been cropped to fit the widescreen aspect ratio. The rest is footage from recent concerts and interviews with participants, in German and English.

    The historical footage features many of the luminaries of the music world over the past seventy years, including Ansermet (whose name is mispronounced by the narrator), Toscanini, Rafael Kubelik, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Yehudi Menuhin, Edwin Fischer and so on. The largest segment is on Herbert von Karajan, who appeared each year at the festival, usually with the Berlin Philharmonic, for four decades.

    This is an interesting documentary and contains lots of archival material if you are interested in that sort of thing.

    Optional subtitles are provided.

Photo Gallery

    Disc Four contains a small selection of photographs from rehearsals of the symphony contained on that disc.

Bonus Performance-Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4-Maurizio Pollini (35:13)

    The veteran Italian pianist gives a very good performance of this concerto from the 2004 festival. The audio has the same options as on the other discs, so that you can choose the format in which you hear his frequent singing along with his own playing. It's distracting but not as noticeable as the humming that marred some of Glenn Gould's recordings.

Multiple Angles-Conductor Camera

    For the Mahler Fifth Symphony there is an option to watch the entire work with the camera on the conductor.

R4 vs R1

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

    This set appears to be the same the world over.


    An enjoyable collection of performances from the Lucerne Festival, played with enthusiasm and a sense of occasion.

    The video quality is generally very good.

    The audio quality is excellent.

    A reasonable selection of extra material.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW60 SXRD projector with 95" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationReceiver: Pioneer VSX-AX4ASIS; Power Amplifiers: Elektra Reference (mains), Elektra Theatron (centre/rears)
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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