The Philharmonics: Waltzes [Strauss/Schoenberg/Berg/Webern] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 Stereo; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Accentus
- Blu-ray Release Date: October 25, 2011
- List Price: $39.99
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)
Imagine it’s mid-afternoon in old Vienna. You and some friends stop for ein kaffe und apfelstrudel at Café Sperl. Enter several members of the world-renowned Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with some friends. They pull up some music stands and chairs, and, suddenly you are transported back to the 19th century when The Waltz reigned supreme. Get the picture? This one-hour concert features mostly best known pieces by Johann Strauss II, although arranged for chamber ensemble by the “modern” Viennese school of composers, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. Thrown in are a few miniatures by violin legend Fritz Kreisler, a klezmer rendition of “Yiddische Mame” by group leader Tibor Kovac, and Leopold Godowsky’s timeless “Alt-Wien.” Perhaps, not the most thought-provoking or probing music out there, but just plain fun. Besides, you don’t get to hear a harmonium, featured in four of the works that much anymore. Accentus turns in its usual fabulous videography and sound recording. What’s not to like?
Director Tilo Krause gets the intimate atmosphere of the coffee house just right. The old-fashioned plush upholstery and gleaming hardwood walls are caught just perfectly. The small ensemble is given enough variety in the camera shots, that, unlike the repetitive 3-4 time, the proceedings are not monotonous. Detail is natural and life-like; colors, just perfect. I was impressed that the customers in the café seem to be having a good time not just sitting like stiffs, soaking in the music. A nice touch, indeed!
This is would not appear to be difficult music to record, but my experience with chamber recitals would dictate otherwise. Getting the warmth, subtle shading, and intimate perspective takes a lot of work since you want to hear every instrument in real space. Again, the engineers twiddled the dials and sliders just right. The presence test is to close one’s eyes and imagine the ensemble in your home theater. Passed with flying colors. Just listen to the double bass solo in Kreisler’s Schon Rosmarin! The ambience is subtle but is abetted by the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.
A couple of snaps for the featurette on Arnold Schoenberg’s transcriptions of the Strauss waltzes. Certainly an improvement over the usual trailers only approach, favored by Accentus.
The Definitive Word
Initially, you might balk at shelling out 40 clams for an hour’s worth of music. When it gets as good as The Philharmonics: Waltzes, the yield in sheer pleasure and delight more than offsets the price of admission. If your heart does not completely melt at the group’s rendition of Kreisler’s Caprice Viennoise or Kovac’s arrangement of Yiddische Mame, seek medical attention at once, you have probably had a cardiac arrest. The program contains deceptively simple, heart-on-the-sleeve, and, yea verily, schmaltzy music. However, it takes substantial artistry to deliver the goods, and The Philharmonics have the musical chops to so deliver. This is a BD that, in audio and video terms, is good enough to use as a system reference, which is what I intend to do in the future. Do yourself and your friends and neighbors a favor. Invite everyone over for coffee, pop this BD in the player, and watch the smiles go around your home theater. Do it now!
Additional Screen Captures