- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 (48kHz/24-bit), dts-HD Master Audio (96kHz/24-bit)
- Subtitles: None
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: EUROARTS
- Blu-ray Release Date: August 31, 2010
- List Price: $39.95
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 stars aligned during this New Year’s Eve 2007 Gala with Sir Simon Rattle at the helm of his orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic. We are treated to a sumptuous feast of mainstream 19th century Russian music with a little surprise for an encore. Alexander Borodin and Modest Mussorgsky were contemporaries, and each had distinctly different musical personalities. Borodin’s best known work, the opera Prince Igor is represented here by its most familiar excerpt, the “Polovetsian Dances.” This sensuous piece begins with Sir Simon’s deft touch and concludes with an all-forces crescendo well done by the Berliners. Rattle and company move on to Borodin’s Second Symphony, a romantic work with overtones of Tchaikovsky. The profusion of gorgeous melodies in the Andante movement tempts conductors to lavish attention and lose the forward pulse of this work–a trap that Rattle nicely avoids.
The second half of the program is dedicated to Mussorgsky, beginning with his evocative overture to the opera Khovanschina. It concludes with the hugely popular “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The Philharmonic is very familiar with this piece having recorded it many times, still Rattle manages a sense of freshness throughout. When the clangorous final “Great Gate of Kiev” section is reached, you realize that you have witnessed a truly great performance. As a surprise encore, Sir Simon throws in the popular dance from Dmitri Shostakovich’s ballet, The Age of Gold. A 20th century piece for sure but its genes are directly traceable to all of the preceding music.
The Berlin Philharmonic Hall, which I have visited, is an ultra-modern 21st century venue that offers great sight-lines. This video shows off the hall to its advantage. It is presented in 1080i format yielding mostly good detail which highlights the rich wood surfaces of the violins and golden sheen of the brass. There is good balance between close-ups and orchestral panoramas, keeping the viewer engaged. Just for fun, watch Simon Rattle’s animated expression during the ballet of the chicks from Mussorgsky’s Pictures. My minor quibble is the presence of a bluish cast over the audience.
The soundtrack in dts-HD Master Audio (96kHz/24-bit) spreads across the proscenium as it should. There is a lot of low-end information, especially in the Mussorgsky pieces, reasonably well articulated. This hall is very open with considerable echo which the sound engineers have tamed successfully. A cautionary note here since “Pictures” has been an audiophile showpiece since the early days of hi-fidelity. If you are after that kind of audio experience, with the visceral bass drum thwacks and all, no live account will satisfy you, including this one. However, if you want good live recording, this is as good as it gets. The audience is dead quiet until the very end when the orchestral forces and their principal conductor receive a well deserved accolade.
There are no supplemental interviews, just trailers for other videos in this series.
The Definitive Word
There is currently no BD live concert competition. Even if there were, this disc would still be at the top of the list. Of interest, a mid-80’s studio performance on DVD with the same orchestra, conducted by its long-time director Herbert von Karajan, is still available While most of the orchestral players are different, that overall performance is easily outclassed by the present EuroArts offering.
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