Romantics, The: Wagner, Tchaikovsky & Berlioz (Norrington) (1999) (NTSC)

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Due Out for Sale 1-Sep-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Main Menu Audio
Music Highlights
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 195:57
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (38:05) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Barrie Gavin
Haenssler Classic
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI ? Music Richard Wagner
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Hector Berlioz

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German Dolby Digital 2.0 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio Varies
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio Varies Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles German
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    This DVD contains three German television broadcasts in which Sir Roger Norrington looks at popular works from three composers in the Romantic repertoire and tries to present them as the composers intended. A daunting task given that documentation about what the composers wanted is sketchy, contradictory or non-existent. The arc of Norrington's career seems to be a chronological one, starting with historically-informed performances of the early Baroque repertoire and gradually making his way down to the late 19th century and beyond. With each new work he looks afresh at original scores, contemporary performance practices and the types of instruments used at the times the works were composed.

    The three composers examined in the programmes are Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz. The first programme, Ways to Wagner (58:00), takes the three orchestral preludes to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Parsifal and Tristan und Isolde. For the first and last Norrington argues for different tempi to those employed during the last century. These give the works an entirely different character, one that will not necessarily satisfy purists. For the Parsifal prelude Norrington seeks to remove the vibrato that became standard many years after the work was written, which gives the short excerpts from the work a strange, ethereal sound quite different from that which we hear nowadays. It's a pity that this is the only one of the three preludes that is not played in its entirety at the end of the talk.

    In the second programme, In the Face of Death (82:12), Norrington looks at Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique, which was premiered nine days before the composer's death. This programme is more of a discussion about performance practices and the meaning of the work. The most interesting section is that about the last movement, and the difference that playing without vibrato makes. The work is not played as a whole from beginning to end, but is broken up with the rehearsal and discussion sequences, though the movements of the symphony, taken from a live performance, can be programmed separately.

    Finally a long series of rehearsals of Berlioz's concert overture Le Corsaire, which the Stuttgart RSO had apparently never played before in its history. This programme (running 55:45) is the least interesting of the three as there seems to be a bit of padding and repetition.

    Nevertheless this set of three programmes has much to recommend it, and will give the viewer a different perspective on several familiar works.

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Transfer Quality


    The video is presented in more than one aspect ratio. The Wagner programme from 1999 is in an aspect ratio of 1.29:1, while the other two are in 1.78:1. In all cases this seems to be the original aspect ratio. I watched all of these NTSC format programmes with the video upscaled to 1280x720p.

    The video quality is very good. While there is the usual loss of fine detail when blown up to a large size, this does not seem quite as marked as in other classical DVDs I have reviewed recently. The lighting seems to be better during the rehearsal sequences than in the actual live performances, and consequently in the latter the clarity is reduced.

    Colour is acceptable. Black levels are good though occasionally lacking in shadow detail. Flesh tones are variable, sometimes seeming a little too reddish.

    All of the programmes were shot on video, so the only artefacts relate to the DVD transfer. There are plenty of small instances of aliasing, some low level noise and some slight ringing due to edge enhancement, but that's about it.

    Optional English subtitles are available. The text is easy to read in white, and although there are a couple of spelling mistakes as well as US spelling the subtitling is of good quality. Based on the segments that are spoken in English the subtitles are verbatim or nearly so to what is being said. Unfortunately in the Berlioz programme there are no subtitles for a good deal of the rehearsal footage where Norrington speaks in German, but when he speaks in English there are subtitles.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted, with the layer break occurring at a pause in the second programme at 38:05.

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


    There is only one audio track, being Dolby Digital 2.0.

    The audio is in German. The introductions by Norrington are spoken in English but overlaid with a spoken German translation by a different voice, while the English can be heard in the background. The explanatory sequences with the orchestra, which form the bulk of each programme, are spoken by Norrington in German in the first two programmes. The Berlioz programme does not have overlaid German dialogue, the original English being retained.

    The music suffers slightly from the loss of high frequency detail, which adds a digital edge to the sound, particularly that of the strings. Otherwise there are no issues with the audio. Audio appears to be in sync throughout. The audio seems to be better balanced during the concert performances than it is during the rehearsal sequences, with a wider soundstage and more detail.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

    The main menu has an excerpt of the Die Meistersinger prelude.


    The booklet contains a history of the orchestra and a biography of the conductor.

CD and DVD references

    A series of audio excerpts from CDs and one DVD featuring the same conductor and orchestra. There are about a dozen in all.

R4 vs R1

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

    This release seems to be identical in all regions.


    An interesting series of programmes dissecting these well-known works and putting them back together with period sensibilities.

    The video quality is excellent.

    The audio quality is good.

    Not a particularly broad range of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, December 13, 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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