Herbert Von Karajan-Beethoven Violin Concerto (1984)

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Released 12-Nov-1999

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Notes
Biographies-Cast
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 50:23
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Herbert Von Karajan
Studio
Distributor
Sony Classical
Sony Music
Starring Herbert Von Karajan
Anne-Sophie Mutter
Berliner Philharmoniker
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $34.95 Music Ludwig Van Beethoven


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 4.0 L-R-LS-RS (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    This major work is the only violin concerto Beethoven wrote, yet there can be very few who would argue that within just three movements we have not been absolutely spoiled. Beethoven did write several other specialty violin works, and possibly had ideas to develop these into something larger, but none compare in significance to the concerto. Being written (and first performed) during 1806, it came in the middle of his most prolific period, possibly being spurred on by knowledge of his failing hearing.

    This recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D minor with Herbert Von Karajan conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker and featuring the soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter came during the last few years of the conductor's magnificent career. Whilst departing somewhat in style from a more traditional presentation of the piece, it has become a well-loved recording. It was made as part of a series of studio performances arranged by Von Karajan to capture some of the major classical orchestral works for both audio and video. It is a real treat that they are now finding their way onto DVD.

    This was certainly not the first collaboration by Von Karajan and Mutter - they had begun working together 6 years prior to this performance with recordings of Mozart when the latter was only 15 years old. That fact is stunning enough in itself, but her maturity and mastery of the instrument on display here are truly wonderful. Probably the first thing that will be apparent if you are familiar with the piece is the slowing of the tempo in the first (Allegro ma non troppo) movement from what is generally considered normal speed. Apparently this was done at Mutter's suggestion, and adds several minutes to what is already an extremely long concerto movement. This allows Mutter to generate greater expression in her performance, and indeed every single note is made so much clearer.

    For me, there are a number of small additional pleasures shown up in the individual performances in this DVD release. One is seeing Von Karajan during some of Mutter's solo passages, reaching out with his hands motionless except for a single finger motioning in just the minutest of fashions, as if he were entranced by the performance going on just a few feet in front of him. Another, during the final movement, is to see in close-up Mutter's fingers perform the most remarkable feats of agility one could possibly imagine. And finally, to top it all off, is the moment after the piece is completed, when for a fraction of a second before the video finishes we can see Mutter's (and Von Karajan's, for that matter) unbridled happiness at her performance.

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Track Listing

1. I. Allegro ma non troppo
2. II. Larghetto
3. III. Rondo, Allegro

Transfer Quality

Video

    The video images of the conductor, soloist and orchestra are obviously far from being the star of this disc. As a general rule, I would just as rather have the option of seeing video of, for example, the towns and country that Beethoven called home. Hey, I'd even be happy with 50 minutes of video taken from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a bright summer's day (the most beautiful scene in the world, for all those not privileged enough to live in Sydney!). Of course, DVD provides the technical ability to offer such a choice on a single disc. However, as I noted above, the picture on offer does provide some of its own charm.

    I have just one slightly more significant complaint. Anne-Sophie is clearly defined audibly to the left of centre, as she should be, but when she appears front-centre in the picture there is a rather off-putting detachment between sight and sound, which initially appeared (to me anyway) to make her appear to be playing in slow motion. This is one unfortunate by-product of this type of production when applied to a concerto.

    The picture is presented in a fullscreen 1.33:1 ratio being, as it is, sourced from a "made for video" production.

    It is not apparent whether the recording was made on a concert stage or within a recording studio. Whatever the situation, filming of the performance was done with several fixed cameras positioned around (outside) the orchestra. The relative distances involved and the sparse lighting required shallow depths of fields in most cases. Thus, while the particular subject on screen is always clearly defined, others in the line of view tend to be out of focus. The formal wear being worn by members of the orchestra doesn't offer too much detail or colour, but shadow detail and low light images are quite acceptable.

    On such a short programme as this there is little need to lose information through over-compression, so MPEG artefacts aren't a great problem. However, the baton arm of Von Karajan, seen in profile against a dark background, did leave trails of ghost images that I presume were an artefact of the transfer process. No other artefacts were detected.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two audio tracks: a Linear PCM 48/16 stereo track and a Dolby Digital 4.0 (L-R-LS-RS) 448 Kb/sec track. I listened to both in immediate succession (though in reverse order to the above).

    The Dolby Digital 4.0 track is really a revelation. The split surrounds provide powerful concert hall reverberation and ambience. Every sound appeared to be perfectly defined. The effect is remarkably like sitting in the front few rows of the auditorium. Even more remarkably, I could have sworn when I closed my eyes that Anne-Sophie was playing right there in my living room, a couple of feet in front of and just to the left of my TV.

    This recording really allows the solo violin to shine through in all of its incredibly varied voices, with magnificent depth in the lower range all the way through to clear and distortion-free intonation at the top end. The orchestra is almost like a sounding board for the soloist. The subwoofer gets plenty of attention and only adds to the "being there" effect. The bass string and woodwind sections and the timpanis, especially, all benefited and I never experienced any distortion or audio lag.

    I did find with this track that in those places where the orchestra played fortissimo, the sound became somewhat cold with the audio equivalent of a metallic sheen. This was not a frequent problem, but did detract just marginally from the overall excellent quality of the presentation.

    In comparison, the PCM track offers a far more traditional, CD-like, listening experience. Surround effects were muted and the subwoofer was inconsequential. The precise definition apparent with the Dolby Digital track was missing. However, the trade-off is that the whole effect appears somewhat warmer.

    Personally, I can see myself never playing the PCM track again, giving my preference to the clarity on offer with DD and giving me the audio illusion of Anne-Sophie playing in my own home. With my eyes closed, I can even see her standing there as well.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Extras are limited to:

Liner Notes

    These shed some light on the background to the performers and the Concerto. They are fairly typical for a recording such as this.

Biography

    Unfortunately, this set of notes, while quite reasonable for the format, limits itself only to Von Karajan. I would very much like to see the story, especially the recent history, of Anne-Sophie.

R4 vs R1

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

    The disc available in Region 4 appears to be identical in features to that available in Region 1.

Summary

    This is an excellent recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, and offers an even more realistic listening experience to what has previously been possible. I suspect that having viewed the picture once you might well subsequently do without it.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Murray Glase (read my bio)
Sunday, October 29, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D906S
SpeakersRichter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)

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