The Reichsorchester-The Berlin Philharmonic and the Third Reich (2007) (NTSC)

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Released 18-Mar-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Main Menu Audio & Animation
Short Film-Zeit im Bild-Furtwängler Dirigiert
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 89:27
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (60:33) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Enrique Sánchez Lansch

Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Enrique Sánchez Lansch
Johannes Bastiaan
Christian Buchholz
Werner Buchholz
Dietrich Gerhard
Erich Hartmann
Andreas Hoppe
Ursula Küllmar
Ingrid Lorenz
Karl Rammelt
Andreas Röhn
Erich Röhn
John Schuster
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $64.95 Music None Given

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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

    This is another of those documentaries cashing in on the never-ending fascination that many people have with the Nazi era. In this case the subject is the Berliner Philharmoniker, the so-called Reichsorchester of the title.

    The orchestra was founded in the 1880s and has been in existence ever since. From the 1950s to the 1970s it was regarded as the world's finest, under the baton of the conductor Herbert von Karajan. Karajan had been a member of the Nazi Party, though in his case it seems to have been for career reasons rather than from conviction. But prior to Karajan the leading conductor in Germany had been Wilhelm Furtwängler, and for much of the Nazi era he had been chief conductor of the orchestra.

    The National Socialist regime quickly recognised the propaganda value of a world-class orchestra, and after expunging it of Jews sent it on tours around Europe, which meant that the members of the orchestra led a privileged life by comparison to ordinary people. They were exempted from military service and somewhat sheltered from the harsh conditions of wartime.

    This documentary does not look into the potentially fascinating political machinations that Furtwängler underwent to remain at the head of the orchestra despite his distaste for the Party (which he never joined), nor does it mention his flight to Switzerland at the end of the war to avoid possible retribution from the dying regime. Instead it concentrates on the members of the orchestra, through the eyes of their children and mainly from the recollections of two surviving members of the 1945 orchestra: 96-year-old Hans Bastiaan, who was a violinist from 1933 and eventually concert master, and 87-year-old Erich Hartmann, who joined as a double-bassist after being invalided out of the army.

    There isn't anything particularly substantial in this documentary, and while it is never boring it isn't especially insightful either. It seems that while most of the members of the orchestra were unhappy about the removal of the Jewish members and disdained the several Party members amongst their number, they also didn't do much about it either, whether through fear or apathy. In fact you get the feeling that most of the musicians were living in their own little world, ignorant - deliberately or otherwise - of what was happening outside. Fortunately the Jews expelled from the Philharmoniker seem to have managed to leave Germany and find careers elsewhere, mainly in the USA. Szymon Goldberg, who became a famous soloist, was one such escapee, though ironically he ended up being interned by the Japanese for several years.

    Perhaps the value of this documentary lies in the various filmed pieces of the orchestra from that time, with several prominent conductors other than Furtwangler in charge. For example Richard Strauss is briefly seen conducting his own Olympische Hymne at the 1936 Olympics. Other conductors featured include Erich Kleiber, Hans Knappertsbusch and (post-war) Sergiu Celibidache.

    While this film is far from ideal it does fill a niche and it is interesting to hear the reminiscences of those who were there, and of those whose parents were there. The DVD comes from Arthaus Musik and is catalogue number 101453.

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Transfer Quality


    The 16x9 enhanced film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which is the original aspect ratio in which it was released. The film contains much black and white archival footage, which is also presented in this aspect ratio, even though it would have originally been shown in 1.37:1. This is achieved by cropping the picture at top and bottom so that it fits the wider frame. I am not fond of this practice, which now seems to be the norm in documentaries, as it destroys the original composition within the frame. The video is in NTSC format and I watched it upscaled to 1280x720p.

    Generally the transfer seems very good despite the presence of some artefacts. The lighting is bright but natural which allows for good clarity and lifelike colours.

    Video artefacts are present in the form of Gibb Effect, chroma noise and some slight edge enhancement. Film artefacts are visible on the archival footage, which is in varying condition. There are all kinds of damage to be seen.

    Optional English subtitles are provided in a white text, which is easy to read and seems to translate virtually all of the dialogue. There are a few passages in English for which there are no subtitles.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer break placed at 60:33, during a sequence in which the daughters of one of the musicians are reading from his notebook.

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


    The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The dialogue is mainly in German.

    At all times the audio was clear, so German-language speakers should be able to understand the dialogue without recourse to the subtitles. The musical excerpts are all in mono. The bass seems to be a little over-emphasised in some of the music, resulting in some low level thumping. There is a little hiss in the older audio, while the recent recording has a digital edge to it, mainly due to the low bitrate chosen for the transfer. Bizarrely the sole extra has a better audio transfer.

    There were no problems with audio sync.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio and Animation

    The menu has music from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and there are three insets with footage from the documentary.


    The booklet contains an essay by the director about the reasons for making the film, and a second essay by his assistant Misha Aster, who has written a book on the same subject. These are repeated in several languages.

Zeit im Bild-Furtwängler Dirigiert (9:57)

    A short subject featuring the Meistersinger Prelude that is excerpted in the main feature. It is shown complete and has an introductory narration for which no subtitles are provided. Much more annoying is that it has been cropped from the original 1.37:1 to 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced. The footage shows Furtwängler conducting the orchestra inside the AEG factory in 1942 while the workers look on intently. Oddly, unlike the main feature which is new material in Dolby Digital 2.0, the audio on this short film is Linear PCM 2.0 at a bitrate of 1536Kbps.

R4 vs R1

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

    As far as I can tell the content and packaging is the same around the globe.


    While this is a good documentary it could have been a lot more substantial and insightful.

    The video quality is good.

    The audio quality is adequate.

    One compromised extra.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, April 05, 2008
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 into HD DVD Player, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. 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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