The Art of Violin (2000)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 21-May-2001

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Booklet
Web Links
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 113:13
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Bruno Monsaingeon
Studio
Distributor

Warner Vision
Starring Ivry Gitlis
Ida Haendel
Hilary Hahn
Laurent Korcia
Yehudi Menuhin
Itzhak Perlman
Mstislav Rostropovich
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Various


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (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
Spanish
Italian
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

   Well, we had The Art Of Singing and The Art Of Piano and we are still longingly awaiting The Art Of Conducting, but in the meantime we have the joys of The Art Of Violin to indulge in. For lovers of great fiddling, this is certainly an indulgence which they should not avoid. Whilst many a child has been forced to partake of the dreaded violin lessons, and the world has as a result been forced to suffer some god-awful screeches, there is no denying that in the hands of a master the fiddle is an instrument capable of great passion, and the performers included in this programme are indeed some of the great masters of the past century - a century that perhaps will have witnessed the last of the truly great masters of the instrument.

   The selection of talent on offer in the programme does indeed represent the finest of the century. Whilst it does not include all the true greats of the century, most of the generally accepted virtuosi are included here. Whilst my personal choice as the greatest fiddler of the century in David Oistrakh is included here, one of my other favourites in Georg Kulenkampff is sadly missing (if you want to hear the most majestic and enthralling performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto then search out his 1936 performance with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra). However, to see and hear the magical playing of David Oistrakh alone is worth the purchase price of this DVD. But when you also add in the delights of the ilk of Ginette Neveu (whose life was tragically cut short by an air crash), Jascha Heifetz (considered by many to be the greatest of the past century) and Nathan Milstein amongst others, fans of the instrument will be in violin heaven as it were.

   The presentation here comprises short excerpts of filmed performances by the various selected fiddlers, mixed in with interview excerpts from the ilk of Itzhak Perlman, Hilary Hahn, the late Yehudi Menuhin, Ida Haendel and Ivry Gitlis - all decent enough fiddlers in their own right. The programme itself comprises two parts, entitled The Devil's Instrument and Transcending The Violin. Some of the presentation is most unusual, and makes the overall programme even more interesting. The opening sequence of the first episode for instance is from Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto: however, the actual performers segue from David Oistrakh to Isaac Stern and onto Christian Ferras, Fritz Kreisler, Nathan Milstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux, Jascha Heifetz and Mischa Elman. The performances themselves range from 1935 to 1979 and provide a most interesting insight into the individual styles and sounds of each of these great violinists. There is also a great segment about the two great makes of violin: Stradivarius and Guarnerius, demonstrated by excerpts played upon various such violins dating as far back as 1699. Adding to the interest are the occasional archival interviews from some of the violinists featured in the programme. In fact, about the only serious complaint here is the fact that the filmed performances are not more complete, and thus the programme overall is about two hours too short!

    Since the age of material ranges as far back as 1926, we are not talking about a whole bunch of recent material and therefore some allowance has to be made about the quality of the source material. It should also be remembered that much of the filmed material appears to have been made for newsreel or early television broadcast, and that in itself results in some problems in the source material. Despite the limitations of the source material, including the soundtrack, the quality of the playing overcomes all and demonstrates how good a violin can sound in the hands of a maestro. Violin aficionados can rejoice - this is almost manna from heaven.

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in Full Frame format and is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    The source material ranges in quality from utterly diffuse and virtually indistinguishable in some of the older material to quite decent quality, sharp and fairly well-defined for the more recent material. However, given the rarity of some of the older and less intrinsically well-defined material, in general sufficient allowance is readily made to ignore the quality and just enjoy the magic. The bulk of the material comes from the 1960s and really is little better than average in definition and detail. Shadow detail is uniformly average, as befits material of the age and source. Grain is a significant problem in some of the material and in an overall sense the transfer is not especially clear. However, I am pretty well assuming that the problems are all source-related and thus the transfer itself is as immaculate as we are ever going to get. There does not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfers.

    The archival material is obviously mainly black and white, with only some of the recent Yehudi Menuhin and Laurent Korcia performances being in colour: all the recent interview material is colour. Overall the quality of the black and white is not the best with a distinct lack of depth to the tones. Murky greys at times are quite predominant but this is perhaps no more than would be expected in this sort of material. The colour performance material suffers from a lack of depth of tones and has a somewhat undersaturated feel to it - suggesting that the material was recorded for television use as the palette is very reminiscent of the sort of colour we have seen in television material from the 1970s. The interview material is of excellent quality with lovely saturation resulting in nice rich tones. The overall look of the colours is about as good as you are going to get in such a diverse array of source material.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. The programme features lots of violins obviously. That means lots of violin strings. What sort of instrument components are going to give DVD masterers a pink fit? You got it, strings. And they did - there is a constant problem with aliasing throughout the transfer and the perpetrators are those violin strings. At times difficult to ignore, it is perhaps the one aspect of the transfer that is marginally disappointing. The source material is also riddled with film artefacts, most notably some obvious black vertical lines in some of the material. There is also the obligatory array of dirt marks, scratches and so on that are the blight of many an old piece of source material, and in that respect is perhaps not entirely unexpected.

    The subtitles default to off on the DVD - you should set English subtitles on when playing this DVD so that these will appear when the interview excerpts recorded in French start.

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

Audio

    There are three soundtracks are on offer on the DVD, all being Dolby Digital 2.0 efforts. The language choices are English, French and German. I stuck to the English soundtrack naturally enough, and did little other than very briefly sample the other two soundtracks. You should note that whilst notionally English, the interviews contain some segments in French and Russian.

    The dialogue at all times remained as clear and easy to understand as the source material would allow. This is to say that some of the recorded dialogue is getting on in years and does not necessarily come over as well as the recently recorded interview material. There certainly is nothing here that is difficult to understand. There did not appear to be any audio sync problems in the transfer.

    The music on offer here ranges in diversity from Wolfgang Mozart through Felix Mendelssohn and Pyotr Tchaikovsky to Eugene Ysaye and George Enescu, mostly in regrettably short segments. The range of music makes for almost as interesting a comparison as the range of fiddlers on offer! Since the segments are often short, truncated pieces, I have not bothered to list out all the available bites of music. After all, I would suggest that we are looking at this DVD as an indication of the mastery of playing of the instrument, and not of the mastery of the composition of the music.

    One fairly obvious problem resonates throughout the soundtrack: hiss. This is not entirely unexpected given the vintage of most of the recordings I might add, but nonetheless there are a few times where it does become quite unavoidably distracting. However, allowing for the fact that the age of the source recordings is hardly likely to encourage miracles of remastering, such as to eliminate the hiss entirely, there is not that much here that could be considered horrendous. Most of the time the hiss is a gentle background noise that you can readily filter out. Additionally, some of the soundtracks offer up more crackling and pops than a bowl of Rice Bubbles. However, this fortunately only affects a few of the musical segments and is certainly no worse than some of the CD recordings I have from Russian archives. Naturally enough there is nothing in the way of bass or surround channel use here at all, and most of the sound recordings would, I hazard a guess, be mono recordings with the sound signal split between the left and right channel. There is certainly nothing wrong with the way the sound is presented and in general the violin sound comes over quite well. Only rarely did I wish for something a little clearer at the top end, to just take off a little of the high end distortion that is fairly characteristic of such old violin recordings.

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

Extras

    Since we are talking about a nearly two hour programme on a single sided, single layer DVD, I suspect that expecting much in the way of extras was an expectation that was far higher than realistic. There is very little here at all.

Menu

    Simply done, there is nothing much noteworthy here.

Booklet

    This is one of the better efforts of recent times from Warner Vision Australia. There are four pages detailing the music on offer including broad details of where and when it was recorded, following which is a two page summary by the director of the fundamentals behind the content of the programmes. Whilst a far more extensive narrative would not have gone astray, what we have is quite interesting.

Web Links

    The basic automated link to the NVC Arts site.

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 we have been able to ascertain, this has not yet been released in Region 1.

Summary

    The Art Of Violin is a wonderful addition to the family of "Art Of" DVDs, featuring some of the very best fiddlers of the past century, often in rare performance footage. Whilst some of that footage is showing plenty of degradation, the transfer itself has done as good a job of bringing that footage to the DVD format as we could reasonably expect. If you love violin playing, then this is an absolutely essential purchase, but even if you are only a dabbler in classical music you should find much to enjoy here. After all, one should never turn up the chance to watch and hear the likes of David Oistrakh playing a violin. Wonderful stuff, that could only have been improved upon by being twice as long!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, June 08, 2001
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

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Tony L

Comments (Add) NONE