Great Composers-Bach/Mozart (1997)

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Released 27-Sep-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Booklet
DVD-ROM Extras-Web Links, Articles
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 118:29
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,3,4,5,6 Directed By James Runcie
Francesca Kemp
Studio
Distributor

Warner Vision
Starring Andras Schiff
Joanna MacGregor
Ton Koopman
Charles Rosen
Jacques Loussier
John Eliot Gardiner
Jonathan Miller
Georg Solti
Cecilia Bartoli
Colin Davis
Lillian Watson
Imogen Cooper
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Johann Sebastian Bach
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


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)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian 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

    Isn't it funny how sometimes the most rewarding things come when you least expect them? Such was the case for me when I reviewed this disc. When it was initially offered to me, I declined on the basis that I had too many reviews to do. Then, when no other reviewer signalled any interest in it, it was duly sent to me regardless. I settled into watching what I presumed would be a mind-numbing set of documentaries accompanied by poor video and audio transfers.

    Imagine my surprise therefore to find that this BBC documentary series on Great Composers is actually quite watchable and interesting. What we get on this disc are the first two programmes in the series featuring the life and works of two of the most well-known and beloved composers of all time: Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Other composers featured in the series include Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Tchaikovsky and Puccini.

    Each programme is just under 60 minutes in length and is narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Each programme examines the life and times of the composer, where he (there are no female composers featured in this series) was born, lived and worked, analysis of their key compositions and commentary as well as performance excerpts from some of the most distinguished musicians in the classical music world who have performed (or indeed in some cases associated with) the works of the composer.

    I recognised some of the musicians featured on the programmes (indeed, I own some of the CDs that they have released) so I can definitely attest to the fact that the producers have selected leading interpreters of the composers' works. It's a pity that they have not captioned the names of the musicians interviewed in the programme - fortunately full credits for the contributors are provided in the accompanying booklet.

Programme 1: Bach

    This traces the life and career of Johann Sebastian Bach from his birthplace in Eisenach to his long sojourn and death in Leipzig. The programme traces the progression of his career, his marriages to Maria Barbara and Anna Magdalena, key influencers (including Buxtehude and Vivaldi), and even his numerous fights with authorities.

    From a music perspective, we get to hear excerpts from the Goldberg Variations, one of the Brandenburg Concerti, some cantatas, the Well-Tempered Clavier, St. Matthew Passion, Mass in B minor and the Art of the Fugue.

    The contributors and performances include pianist András Schiff, keyboardist Joanna MacGregor, conductor John Eliot Gardiner and the Montiverdi Choir and Orchestra, organist Peter Hurford, jazz musician Jacques Loussier, and others. These are pretty famous names - I happen to own CDs of every single Bach organ work recorded by Peter Hurford, and John Eliot Gardiner's interpretation of the Mass in B minor is still widely regarded as the best recording available of this work.

Programme 2: Mozart

    This programme starts with the camera panning down on to what is later revealed to be the memorial to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, located at Salzburg, Austria. The camera then provides us with a panoramic view of modern day Salzburg before zooming onto the building where he was born.

    I am sure fans of Sound of Music will probably join me in exclaiming "Hey, I recognise those landmarks!" We get to see the river where Julie Andrews prances along with the kids singing Do-Re-Mi, though of course we don't get to see the von Trapp family mansion.

    But I digress. What follows is a fascinating documentary on the life and compositions of surely one of the most beloved classical music composers of all time. I thoroughly recommend this to anyone whose perception of Mozart is derived from watching Amadeus (in either the stage play or film version). The real Mozart is not really the air-headed, skirt-chasing and superstitious bozo that Amadeus makes him out to be, and of course Salieri does not really assume the importance Amadeus ascribes to him in the events surrounding Mozart's life. The real Mozart turned out to be quite astute in managing his financial and personal affairs, and the documentary suggests that the decline in his wealth might well have been reversed if he had not succumbed to a plague and died young.

    The musical analysis focuses on Mozart's operas, piano concerti and symphonies, as is to be expected. Contributors and performances are from musicians as luminous and as authoritative as in the previous programme: Sir Georg Solti, Cecilia Bartoli, Sir Colin Davis, Imogen Cooper and Peter Shaffer. Robert Levin in particular provides a very enthusiastic and animated analysis of Mozart compositions.

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a full frame transfer in the original made-for-TV aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

    In general, the transfer is not bad, but is problematic in spots. The source is obviously an analogue video master, and the transfer exhibits signs of analogue video deterioration - including minor video glitches here and there. The transfer is slightly soft most of the time, and colours have that slightly smoothed over look that you get when you have recorded and rerecorded too often on a worn-out video tape.

    The DVD authors have chosen to squeeze nearly two hours of material onto a single sided single layered disc. Surprisingly, this has not resulted in a lot of Gibb's effect ringing or posterization, although we do get rather annoying instances of pixelization at times. Around 37:30 or so into the first programme, we get quite a lot of low level video noise in the transfer.

    This disc comes with a number of subtitle tracks. I have to warn you about the English subtitle track - it doesn't actually transcribe the programme at all. It's a silent track except on the occasions when people are not speaking English (Cecilia Bartoli for instance) or during excerpts of choral music or opera where it tries to translate the foreign language lyrics. The other subtitle tracks do translate the English narration into the foreign language subtitle of your choice.



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

Audio

    There are five audio tracks on this disc, all in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s): English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. I listened to only the English audio track. For the other audio tracks, I noticed that only the narrator changes languages - the contributors speak in their natural language (which is English in most instances).

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: NVC Arts makes very fine Dolby Digital 2.0 transfers which sometimes sound better than other people's PCM audio tracks. The audio track is very full bodied, rich, full range and well balanced.

    The only complaint I have about the audio is that some of the musical excerpts sound slightly distorted, as if some amplifier stage somewhere in the chain is being over-driven into clipping. A prime example is the choir around 3:31 or so. I suspect though that this is not the fault of the audio transfer but may have been present in the source material as the playback level is not particularly loud during the clipping points.

    As is typical for a BBC documentary, the enunciation of the main presenter is excellent and in general the producers have chosen contributors who can articulate well. I did not detect any audio synchronisation issues with the disc.

    The musical excerpts come across very well on the disc (apart from the occasional distortion I mentioned earlier).

    Obviously, there are no rear surround, centre channel or subwoofer activity in the audio track.



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

Extras

    Given that we have nearly two hours of the main feature on a DVD-5 disc, not to mention 5 audio tracks, the number of extras on this disc are extremely limited.

Menu

    We are allowed to select from 5 languages for the menus, but the menus themselves are pretty basic.

Booklet

    This is a 20-page booklet that provides chapter listings (in 5 languages), recording recommendations and instructions for accessing DVD-ROM content. The chapter listings also provide details on the musical excerpts included in the programmes and credit the contributors by name.

    The recording recommendations mainly direct you to full versions of the music played in the programme, but unfortunately in most cases performed by musicians other than those appearing in the programme. This is because Warner of course wanted to recommend recordings from its own catalogue rather than its competitors, which is a pity. Although the recordings recommended by Warner are decent, I would have preferred that the booklet actually list recordings made by artists appearing in the programme.

DVD-ROM Extras-Web Links, Articles

    The DVD-ROM extras consist of a web link to the NVC Arts web site plus two Microsoft Word documents which are articles about Bach and Mozart.

R4 vs R1

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

    The disc is multi-region coded for regions 2-6, and does not appear to be available in Region 1.

Summary

    Great Composers: Bach and Mozart are two programmes from a BBC documentary series on the life and music of two of the greatest music composers of all time. They are presented on a DVD with an average video transfer but an excellent audio transfer. The extras are pretty minimal.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

Other Reviews
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