Bach-Organ Spectacular (Ton Koopman) (DVD-Audio) (2001) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Jun-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Gallery-Photo
Featurette-The Instrument
Audio-Only Track-Also Available (DVD-A)
Credits
Booklet
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 72:23
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor

Warner Vision
Starring None Given
Case DVD-Audio Jewel
RPI $32.95 Music Johann Sebastian Bach


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Audio MLP 96/24 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     I’m a purist. I thought I would get that out of the way before continuing, as I’m the sort of person who actually wants a music recording to sound exactly like the real thing. I have a tendency to feel cheated if any of the audio or video is changed from its original state and I’m the sort of person who has never, ever used any of those simulated surround effects that every amplifier seems to possess. I find that all these supposed improvements, whilst adding a certain level of ambience and immersion, are usually detrimental to the soundstage imaging and thus destroy the playback illusion. I have also been a long time adopter of Surround Sound, starting with Dolby Pro Logic over a decade ago, and have openly accepted multichannel movie soundtracks. The same cannot be said about music and I must admit that I have always been extremely sceptical of multichannel music. A scepticism that was well founded in those days when listening to titles such as the original CD recording of Holst: The Planets by The Dallas Symphony Orchestra in Dolby Surround encoded stereo. When compared with high quality, minimalist stereo recordings, many of these early surround efforts simply failed – muddying, instead of clarifying, the sonic image. It was for many decades that people (read audiophiles), argued that a realistic soundstage can only be reproduced using the three front speakers (left, centre, right); however this leads to the window effect, whereby as a listener I feel like I am watching/listening to the performance from the outside, through a window, rather than being truly present at the performance.

     And so it was, for a long time, that I was convinced that the only purpose in life for rear speakers with music was to simply reproduce a few crowd effects as opposed to any meaningful acoustic ambience. I’ll admit now that my point of view has changed...dramatically. Clearly the issue with many of these early attempts at immersive surround was the lack of full bandwidth discrete channels, coupled with poor channel placement. I say this, because recent multichannel SACD and DVD-Audio releases have been clearly demonstrating some very powerful uses of the surround channels. These uses range from extending the soundstage out to the side walls (a la Eric Clapton and B. B. King: ”Riding with The King”), immersing the listener in the centre of the band (a la Bela Fleck: ”Bluegrass Sessions”) to this example (Bach: Organ Spectacular (Ton Koopman)) where the complex ambience and reverberations of a real-life acoustic space, such as a large church are very accurately reproduced. As a result, I’ve decided to toss in the towel and finally concede that multichannel music is probably the biggest single improvement in music reproduction since two channel stereo and I can’t wait to hear what’s next. And so it is, with complete authority, that I now return you to our regular programming and proceed with the synopsis …

     Bach: Organ Spectacular (Ton Koopman) was recorded in a live session with Ton Koopman on one of the world's largest and most historic church organs, the Christien Müller organ, originally built 1724-1727, Grote Kerk (St. Bravo’s Church), Leeuwarden (Haarlem, Netherlands). This famous organ features a total of 4 keyboards, 64 registers and around 5000 pipes, the largest being the Principaal 32 foot pipes. I should point out however, that this is not a ground-shaking organ, rather this is a more nimble Baroque instrument that makes up for the lack of truly deep bass reproduction with its incredible array of musical registers including several percussion registers which can be clearly heard in this recording. This has always been one of the things that has appealed to me about the organ as a musical instrument; that being its ability to not only mimic many other instruments including strings, woodwinds, harpsichords and brass, but also its uniqueness of timbres that no other instrument can match. When you then add the acoustic ambience of a large church or cathedral and a talented choir you have a potent recipe for pure audio bliss. I thoroughly recommend anyone to stop by an organ recital if they get a chance for a truly unique experience. As an aside; if anyone who is interested ever visits Haarlem in the Netherlands, organ recitals are free at the Grote Kerk on Tuesdays (20:15 – 21:15) during May to October and Thursdays (15:00 – 16:00) during July and August.

     This recording features several staple organ choices, presented with a fresh and lively interpretation from Ton Koopman who always endeavours to add some flair to his performances but never at the expense of reproducing the authentic styles of the period. This particular recording opens with a classic organ piece, BWV 565 “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” (track 1), which is, of course, designed for a much, much larger organ, capable of expressing the deep, powerful registers that this particular work demands. The Christien Muller organ struggled to impress this rendition of Toccata and Fugue and in the end it sounded too forced, lacking the body and soul that one expects from this piece. Thankfully, the remaining pieces are perfectly suited to this particular organ and the recording and interpretation is an absolute treat. Couple this with the incredible acoustic reproduction of the church's ambience in the surrounds and this really is one of the best organ recordings I have ever heard, period. The rest of the tracks fall into two broad categories: the more relaxed and drifting pieces, which primarily focus on the use of the woodwind-like registers, and those more dynamic and lively pieces, which primarily focus on the string-like registers.

     The more relaxed and drifting pieces include:

     The more dynamic and lively pieces include:

    Bach: Organ Spectacular (Ton Koopman) is truly a spectacular recording of a superb organ by one of the finest organists in the world today, Ton Koopman, and is presented on a fantastic disc. I can wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who is still questioning the ability of surround sound recordings to reproduce a believable acoustic space such as a large church.

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Track Listing

1. Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 56
2. "Vater unser im Himmelreich" BWV 68
3. Fugue in G minor BWV 578
4. "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" B
5. "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" BWV
6. Prelude and Fugue in E flat major B
7. Prelude and Fugue in E flat major B
8. Trio Sonata in G major BWV 530
9. Trio Sonata in G major BWV 530
10. Trio Sonata in G major BWV 530
11. Passacaglia in C minor BWV 582

Transfer Quality

Video

     Each song is accompanied by a visual snapshot of either the first page or cover sheet of the musical piece being played. The title and catalogue number of the track is also supplied. Simple, but consistent with what other DVD-Audio titles contain.

Audio

     This is a very impressive recording but not for the reasons you would normally associate with an organ recording – that being the powerful bass that can be present. Although the Christien Müller organ is certainly one of the larger organs in existence today, it is far from spectacular in this respect; rather what makes this particular recording unique is its utilisation of the surround channels to recreate the ambience of a live organ recital. Capitalising on the 5.0 channels (the .1 is entirely optional in this recording) beautifully, this recording reproduces much of the real ambience that exists within a large, high roof church space. Although I have not heard this particular organ in person, I have attended several organ recitals at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and can safely say that this disc certainly comes closer to reproducing the natural acoustic space and ambience of a church organ more than any other I have encountered.

     This disc includes Advanced Resolution 96/24 5.1 multichannel audio and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound tracks. I primarily listened to the Advanced Resolution track. I found certain aspects of the Advanced Resolution track to be superior to the Dolby Digital equivalent, namely the sense of depth and transparency.

     The soundstage is completely immersive, with the organ itself placed firmly in front, stretching from the far left to far right and the surrounds provide convincing ambience to recreate the effect of standing in a large church. The centre channel is used, but not discretely. Rather, its presence is only very slight and helps to stabilize the frontal imaging. This particular recording exhibits one of the best examples of depth reproduction I have ever heard in a recording, examples of which can be heard in Tracks: 5, 8, 9 with one of the percussive registers playing very, very far away on the left side of the soundstage. The ambience and immersion is simply the best I have ever heard outside of being there in person.

     The resolution is superb, accurately reproducing each timbre and nuance of the performance. Absolutely every register and combination of registers can be heard with perfect clarity, providing a clear demonstration of the chameleon capabilities of the organ. There were no vocals in the performance to comment on, except in the extras which I can also say are reproduced perfectly. One of the strongest features of this recording is the naturalness and transparency of the reproduction - if you close your eyes you are totally convinced that you are standing in a church, listening to a live organ recital (as opposed to sitting on your lounge, in a small room listening to an amplifier and DVD hooked up to some speakers). This is a non-mixed recording that clearly shows the advantages of good miking techniques.

     The recording levels were spot on, producing a realistic rendition of an organ. Organ recitals are meant to evoke strong emotions and this particular disc certainly achieves that given half a chance. I am a little disappointed with the lack of dynamic range in some of the pieces (particularly Tracks: 1, 2, 4, 9) and thought that better use could have been made of the various organ stops to improve this aspect.

     The surrounds were used exclusively for providing the ambience of the recording space, a task that they performed flawlessly and are the best example I have yet encountered. The subwoofer however is another story that first requires some clarifications. There are fundamentally two types of 5.1 surround sound setups common in home theatre setups: (i) The setup which uses full range (or very near to full range) speakers for all channels and includes a real subwoofer (something that only kicks in sub-40Hz down to sub-20Hz and deeper – cost is almost always > $1000) and (ii) those setups that employ mini-speakers (or even micro-speakers) and a glorified woofer which is called a subwoofer (something that actually kicks in around 120Hz and is really struggling below 30Hz – cost is usually <= $1000). If you belong to the Type (i) setup then you will be very disappointed as there is nothing at all in this recording anywhere for the true subwoofer to enjoy; if however you belong to the Type (ii) setup then there is plenty of activity right down to the 50-40Hz mark that will sound very nice indeed.

     I only noticed one problem worth mentioning with this recording in Track 2, where there is some distortion that can be heard in one of the registers to the left at 1:10 – 1:17 and again at 1:40 – 1:48. There is also some resonance at 7:39 again on the left but in a deeper register. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced my reference headphones so I couldn’t confirm the exact nature or cause of the problem; if anyone else gets a chance please feel free to post a comment or email.

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

Extras

Booklet

    Written in English, Dutch (I think) and French, this 25 page booklet contains 7 pages of English text describing some history behind the organ, the organist and the composer.

Photo Gallery

    A small compilation of eleven photos with comments and quotes regarding Ton Koopman and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Featurette – The Organ (2:29)

    A short featurette that lists all of the organ's registers and register groups accompanied by an appropriate photo of the instrument itself.

Credits

    Four pages of production credits.

Sampler

    There are eleven additional excerpts taken from other Teldec titles on this disc. These include:

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 are aware, this disc is the same in all regions.

Summary

    Bach: Organ Spectacular (Ton Koopman) is a spectacular recording that reproduces the full ambience of a live church organ recital.

    The video quality is exactly what you should expect of a DVD-Audio disc.

    The audio quality is sublime and perfectly succeeds in recreating real ambience where many others have failed.

    The extras are not bad for DVD-Audio, but there is still a long way to go.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael S Cox (to bio, or not to bio?)
Thursday, October 17, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplayJVC Interiart Flat 68cm Display 16:9. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3802
SpeakersFront LR - NEAR MainMast, Center - NEAR 20M, Surround LR - NEAR Spinnaker DiPoles, Rear LR - NEAR MainMast-II, Subwoofer - NEAR PS-2 DiPole

Other Reviews NONE
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