Symphonic Hymns of the Forefathers (2002)

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Released 28-Feb-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Further five hymns with introduction and more video footage
Trailer-1:34 video trailer featuring highlights from production
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 80:14 (Case: 126)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Peter Beveridge
Bredon Hill
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Christopher Lawrence
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Paul Terracini

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Song Lyrics Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Hymns and DVD? Now there's an interesting combination. Can surround sound and a good video transfer awaken the interest of the average avid fan? I didn't think so. Certainly this reviewer wasn't looking forward to the task of viewing 80 minutes of stodgy Anglican fare - English private school and daily chapel 7 days a week for 10 years I thought had cured me of any church interest at all. Yet I have to say this ABC presentation is quite a gem - not just a recital of hymns but an insightful history of the early Christian and then Anglican religion, a superb orchestration of well-known hymn melodies and an engaging journey across the English and Welsh landscape, stopping on the way to visit a wide variety of architectural styles in churches small and great, inside and out.

    The main feature of Symphonic Hymns of the Forefathers is an 80 minute documentary introduced and narrated by ABC radio's Christopher Lawrence starting on the Sydney foreshore and then transported to the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford from whence sprang Oxford University. The architectural journey includes the London great churches of St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, ducks down to Canterbury Cathedral and then treks across country to Bath Abbey, the tiny St Clement Church in the Cotswolds and crosses the river Severn to dwell upon the ruins of the once-great Tintern Abbey. Interspersed with the church visits are plenty of glimpses of Oxford, London and the English and Welsh countryside.

    Then there's the hymns - no dry-as-dog-biscuit renditions here, from congregations restlessly awaiting opening time or a departure from this mortal coil, but a collection magnificently orchestrated by Australian Paul Terracini, played by the Prague Symphony Orchestra and melodiously accompanied by the Ars Nova Vocal Group. I have to say that Terracini's arrangements provided me with some of the most enjoyable classical musical listening that I have experienced! The hymns' history is well presented by Lawrence with a commentary on the origins of their melody and subsequent words which usually have a quite different history. Most of the tunes, if not their names, will be familiar and include Nicaea (Holy, Holy, Holy), Diademata (Crown Him With Many Crowns), Richmond (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross) and St Denio (Immortal, Invisible). The latter hymn is one of Queen Elizabeth's favourites and was played at her 60th Jubilee celebrations.

    The DVD is cleverly authored so as to present the documentary featuring 6 hymns and Terracini and Lawrence's insightful and interesting commentaries or as a standalone soundscape featuring the original six hymns with 6 extras together with their own video footage (check out Royal Yorkshire Crescent, Bath Abbey, Roman Baths and Pulteney bridge and weir in Chapter 4 - Aurelia).

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Track Listing

1. Richmond
2. Cwn Rhonda
3. Aurelia
4. Diademata
5. Yorkshire
6. Rockingham
7. Fairest Lord Jesus
8. St Denio
9. Nicaea
10. St Clement
11. Hanover
12. St Columba

Transfer Quality


    Overall this is a good video transfer marred only by inconsistencies in grain and some MPEG artefacts. The camerawork and direction is particularly good of difficult to film shots such as the inside of cathedrals

    The feature, extras and menu are all presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and are 16x9 enhanced.

    Most of the transfer is reasonably sharp and there are good quality close-ups of stained glass windows and architectural features. Some of the external scenery was a little blurred on focus. There were a few marked lapses with marked grain visible in the Oxford walkabout at 14:17, at 22:45 and wood scenery filmed at 47:15. Shadow detail was generally below par with black holes in the landscape shots in the shade of buildings and trees and the interior of churches. The blacks were nevertheless solid with little apparent low level noise.

    The colours of the church interiors were rich and well realised. Some of the external scenery was a bit drab but this probably reflects the fact that much of the footage was shot in winter. There was chroma noise in Lawrence's jacket and the shop window frames at 14:17.

    Mild aliasing was apparent throughout the feature but only really irritating at 4:53 in the bell-tower louvre, on the conductor's baton at 8:38 and on the organ pipes at 20:43. There were moire patterns on the engraving at 11:43. As the feature was shot for TV, in video, there no film-to-video or film artefacts.

    Subtitles are provided for the hymns in both features but not for the commentaries which is a shame as I'm sure there will be many hard-of-hearing who will appreciate this disc.

    This is a dual layered DVD9 disc. There was no apparent layer transition point in the 80 minutes of the main feature. There were pauses after the introduction to the hymn extras suggesting the extras and main features were on different layers. This occurred for each hymn extra and was a little offputting.

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


    This was a superb soundtrack fully doing justice to the timbre of the Prague Symphony Orchestra woodwind, oboe and bassoon, delicate harp and integrated harmonies of the Nova Artis Vocal Group.

    There was just the one audio track - English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded.

    The dialogue of commentators and the vocal group was crystal clear and there were no problems with audio sync.

    What can one say about the music? These are some of the best-loved melodies in Western history, skilfully orchestrated into full symphonic and choral works and performed by fine musicians and singers. I hadn't heard of Terracini before but his is definitely a name to watch out for in future! For those who become mentally numb at the sight of congregations grinding their way through soulless dirges - let me assure you that the vocals in these symphonies are minimal and tastefully rendered.

    The surround channels were discretely and effectively utilised to evoke fullness and atmosphere without distraction.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    One can either view this disc as two (overlapping) features with no extras or as an 80 minute documentary with roughly 30 minutes of extra hymns and footage.


    The menu is plain but functional with windowed video excerpts and sound bites from each chapter. It is presented at 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack as per the main features.


    1:34 selection of the Churches, the Hymns, the History & Heritage, the Orchestra and the Forefathers from the feature.


    Six extra hymns, available with or without introductions by Lawrence and featuring excellent video footage of the countryside or cityscape relevant to the origins of the hymn - available with or without subtitles words to the hymns.

R4 vs R1

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

    This release is coded for R2 and R4 and as far as I can ascertain no R1 release is presently available


     This is a well-presented documentary of 18th & 19th English church and religious history with original and impressive orchestrations of well-known hymns and extensive footage of British, and a little of Australian and Danish, countryside.

    The video, as is frequently the case with ABC releases, varies in quality from mediocre to superb but is mostly of good quality though marred by a fairly frequent smattering of minor MPEG and film-to-video artefacts.

    Although 'only' Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, the audio quality is superb does justice to the content.

    Symphonic Hymns Of The Forefathers will be enjoyed by those with an interest in architecture, church history, fine classical music or those who just enjoy letting the vista of British countryside roll by and stir some of those misty memories ....

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Lancaster (read my bio)
Wednesday, March 06, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-900E, using RGB output
DisplayPioneer SD-T50W1 (127cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderDenon ACV-A1SE. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTheta Digital Intrepid
SpeakersML Aeon front. B&W LRC6 Centre. ML Script rear. REL Strata III SW.

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