The Art of Piano-Great Pianists of the 20th Century (1999)

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Released 2-Oct-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Booklet
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 106:44 (Case: 108)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Donald Sturrock
Studio
Distributor

Warner Vision
Starring Various
Case Super Jewel
RPI $39.95 Music Various


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Smoking Yes, briefly
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

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Plot Synopsis

    Well, if great singing is not quite your style, how about great piano virtuosity? The companion DVD to the recently-reviewed The Art Of Singing, this is of very similar presentation and scope. Whilst not quite so eagerly awaited as the earlier reviewed DVD (and not as eagerly awaited as The Art Of Conducting), this is nonetheless another welcome release onto DVD from Warner Vision Australia. First, though, a word of warning to all of you out there reading this who fancy a tickle of the old ivories - some of what you will see here will make you exceedingly envious. I always knew that my hands were far too small to allow me to play the piano, but when you see some of the gargantuan efforts here, that are more like dirty great spiders wandering across the keys, one does have to ponder exactly how big a pair of hands needs to be in order to play the piano.

    Naturally, when taking about pianistic film clips, we are tending to extracts rather than complete works or complete movements, so if you have an aversion to shortish excerpts from some of the great classical compositions of all time, this is perhaps one to be avoided. For those like myself who do not have a problem with such excerpts, the great talent that is on display here comprises:

    Since any selection of the great pianists of the last century is bound to evoke arguments about notable omissions, of which there are plenty here, it must be pointed out that the first limitation against inclusion is the availability of suitable video material. However, this does include many of the true greats of the era, none more so than the best of the best in Sergei Rachmaninoff. The performances again are of quite diverse sources, ranging from film appearances in the case of Jan Paderewski to filmed recitals. The most fascinating are the silent filmed excerpts which are predominantly included to show the formidable technique of the players concerned. However, I would hazard a guess that after watching the slow motion playing of Vladimir Horowitz, mere mortals would be reduced to tears of exasperation! Most of the clips are introduced by interview material, some from the artists themselves, or from the likes of Sir Colin Davis, Gyorgy Sandor, Tomas Vasary, Steven Kovacevich (who should have been included as a great pianist) and Daniel Barenboim, and there is a short narration too about each singer. Some of the clips actually comprise music played over a still photograph.

    The music may be somewhat repetitive, but this reflects the fact that great musicians gravitate to great music! The quality of the pianistic talent on display is not be argued with and this really is fine stuff.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Whilst the age of the source material is not quite as diverse as the earlier DVD reviewed, it still ranges from about 1928 through to 1974. Overall however, this is once again a pretty decent effort that is hardly likely to disappoint anyone except the most fastidious.

    The transfer is predominantly presented in a Full Frame ratio, but also contains interview material framed at 1.85:1. None of the program is 16x9 enhanced.

    Obviously, with the extracts again coming from a variety of sources and a variety of eras, there is something of a disparity in the quality of the video transfers. However, in general, this is a more consistent looking effort and none of the clips really descend into murkiness. The image is generally quite reasonable, not the epitome of sharpness but at least with a decent definition, apart from a couple of instances where the pianist is in silhouette. One notable exception involves the clip of Vladimir Horowitz, which is one of the most diffuse and indistinct images I have seen. Even allowing for the source material age, this is not a great view. Detail is also quite reasonable although shadow detail is nothing really wonderful. Clarity is still a little poor at times, although most of the problems in this regard would seem to be a reflection of the source of the material. There does not appear to be any really significant problem with grain, although there is the odd break-out of grain here and here that I did not find really distracting. There does not seem to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    Whilst most of the clips are in black and white, the interview material is generally in colour, as are a few of the clips. The black and white on offer is quite varied, but never really descends into murky grey tones. The black and white might not be the absolute best, but in general has a nice depth to it that is very watchable. Obviously some clips are far better than others. The most notable colour clip involves the same Vladimir Horowitz clip as above, and it is quite poor indeed. Apart from lacking any real depth to the colour, it has some quite distinct colouration problems: I am fairly sure that Vladimir Horowitz did not really have a distinctly greenish skin tone! The colour interview material is much better and generally very nice indeed, quite natural looking and without a trace of oversaturation or colour bleed, however this is not what I would call a vibrant transfer.

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were no real problems with film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, although a Vladimir Horowitz clip (again, although this time the Variations clip) suffers from quite noticeable aliasing in the piano keys. Film artefacts were variable in their prominence with one or two clips being a little plagued with the problem, but in general they do not detract at all from the enjoyment. The problems are all source-related and in general there is little to fault the actual transfer over.

    The subtitles on the DVD do not provide any lyrics to the songs but rather provide a translation of the interview material in foreign languages. Accordingly, it is a bit disconcerting that the subtitles default to off rather than with the English subtitles on.

Audio

    Once again, the audio is quite decent.

    There are three audio tracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. Since the language is only really applicable to the narration and interview material, there seemed little reason to venture further than the English soundtrack.

    Dialogue was clear and easy to understand throughout.

    There did not appear to be any really serious problems with audio sync in the transfer, although naturally enough some of the earlier material was not exactly in sync. This is not a DVD mastering problem but is the result of inherent problems with the source material I would suspect. The music itself obviously comes from a rather diverse range of composers, but most falls into the category of genuine classics.

    The biggest problem with the soundtrack is the fact that there is a little background hiss to some of the music. However, it is not that much of a distraction and, just as with The Art Of Singing, if you are used to CD recordings of the early 1930s and earlier, the hiss is not any worse than what you are used to. Once again, it is important to remember to balance the quality of the sound with the comparative rarity of some of the material on offer here. This is mono sound that makes few apologies for being so, and is quite a frontal sound. Thankfully, it is not too congested, and has a decency to it that shows the slightly later original mastering of the sound when compared to The Art Of Singing. The quality of the piano virtuosity on offer is certainly not harmed by the sound.

Extras

    The comments made with respect of The Art Of Singing apply here equally, although the booklet does contain some brief biographical details of the pianists on offer. The rear cover refers to a link to the NVC Arts site on the internet via DVD-ROM, but this is nothing more than an automated link opened opened from within Windows Explorer.

Menu

    A little more distinctive through having some audio and animation enhancement.

Booklet

    A decently extensive detailing of the music and some worthwhile background notes, albeit hampered a little by the rather smallish font size used to keep the booklet small enough to slip into the super jewel case.

R4 vs R1

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

    This does not yet appear on Region 1 release sheets.

Summary

    The Art Of Piano is an essential purchase for anyone even remotely interested in great piano playing. The fact that it is on a good DVD for material of this age is a nice bonus. Whilst I could again imagine a better collection, this will again be the benchmark for quite a time to come I would suggest.

    A good video transfer of some aged material.

    A good audio transfer of some aged material.

    An extras package that should have been so much more.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, August 31, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, 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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