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Discovering Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1, 2 & 3 [Thielemann/Wiener Phil.] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: C Major
  • Blu-ray Release Date: February 22, 2011
  • List Price: $45.98

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Overall
[Rating:5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:5/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Performance

[Rating:5/5]

This is the first Blu-ray offering of the three initial Beethoven symphonies, all of which have been previously released as DVDs. There is not a better Beethoven orchestra today than the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic). Its progenitors were the first musicians to play these symphonies, composed in Vienna, between 1799 and 1804, when this city was the music capital of the world. Christian Thielemann, a native Berliner, has spent most of his outstanding musical career in Berlin, Munich, and now Dresden.  The partnership of Thielemann and the Philharmoniker was a Beethoven match made in heaven when these videos were shot in 2008 and 2009. The sum total of these performances more than meets this expectation, in every aspect.  Viewing these symphonies in their chronology yields great insights into Beethoven’s development as a composer.  Symphony No. 1 (C major, Op.21) is the most Mozartian of the set as the only Beethoven Symphony to include a classical minuet movement.  Symphony No. 2 (D Major, Op.36) shows Beethoven gradually moving away from his Viennese forebears, Haydn and Mozart. While one of the least played of the cycle, there are moments that presage some of the later symphonies, particularly the famous 5thSymphony No. 3 (E-flat Major, Op. 55) is the first Beethoven symphony to bear a title, Eroica. Napoleon Buonaparte was its original dedicatee, a decision later reversed by Beethoven. Most music historians agree that the Eroica represents a turning point, not only for Beethoven’s career, but for the course of Western music. Although cast in standard four-movement form,  the Eroica simply does not resemble its predecessors in its musical ideas or their expression. This disc is completed by two later works, the Coriolan (Op. 62) and Egmont (Op. 84) Overtures.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The Gold Room of the Musikverein, the Wiener Philharmoniker’s home, is a drop-dead gorgeous venue.  It is challenging to keep viewers engaged in orchestral music as the only stage action comes from sedentary players and a  conductor who is in constant motion. Brian Large who directed the first two symphonies and the Coriolan overture does a masterful job keeping us on our toes with judicious pans and close ups of Thielemann and his players. The other two directors, Agnes Meth and Michael Beyer, contribute commendably although their work lacks some of Large’s perfect timing in the cutaways. The 1080i HD quality is sharp and the color palette is beautiful throughout.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The soundtrack in a DTS-HD Master Audio (96kHz/24-bit) is outstanding. The hall effects are judicious as they should be with the music kept up front (where it should be). The tonal balance is spot on and the warmth of live music is well captured by the mics. It is fascinating to watch the progressive increase in orchestral size as the symphonies progress. I have not heard many high definition sound tracks that get it as right as this one does. There is no 0.1-channel (subwoofer) included. This is, as I hear it, to the good as the bass is plentiful and clean.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:5/5]

Unlike many classical music Blu-rays, which give the buyer short shrift in the extras department, this one offers 3 nearly hour-long commentaries on  each of the symphonies by conductor Thielemann and Joachim Kaiser, a world-renowned music authority, who has heard most of the leading Beethoven conductors of the past sixty years. Each commentary provides detailed coverage of the preparation and rationale for every passage of music. As engrossing as they are, I would recommend viewing them after hearing these pieces for the first time, and then revisiting each symphony with this knowledge in mind.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:5/5]

Simply put, this is a magnificent symphonic recital. It is also very generous, offering 326 minutes of music and commentary.  I can safely say that you are not likely to hear better realizations of the early Beethoven symphonies in today’s music world.  These performances stand up extremely well to the SD competition, excel them in both audio and video quality, and offer occasional fresh insights into works that have been recorded by nearly every major orchestral conductor of the last 50 years. Thielemann uses his economical baton work and expressive body movement to get his players to yield near-chamber music intimacy, while keeping the massed sonorities rich and potent.  I am eagerly awaiting the issue of the remaining 6 symphonies on Blu-ray disc. Bravo, maestro Thielemann, Wiener Philharmoniker, and Herr Beethoven!

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product]B0047QRXYY[/amazon-product]

[amazon-product region=”uk” tracking_id=”bluraydefinit-21″]B0047QRXYY[/amazon-product]

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:5/5]

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