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AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - web magazine for music, audio & home theater
This section sponsored by SUNFIRE CORPORATION

DVD-Video Reviews - December 2003, Pt. 1 of 3
ALL MUSIC VIDEOS [Part 2] [Part 3]

KISS Symphony (2003)

Studio: BMG/Sanctuary Records/KISS Records
Video: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Extras: Rove Live Interview, “Sure Know Something” Live performance on Rove Show, Lots of documentary footage leading up to the performance
Length: 219 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

This 2-disc set is broken up into different parts not only of the performance, but also of lots of video covering the pre-performance. The beginning covers the initial concept of the band working with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for a live performance in Melbourne, Australia. This footage covers meetings with the conductor, David Campbell, and the band, as well as rehearsals, and tons of interviews with most of the people involved in the production. The actual performance was comprised of three acts: the first with just the band, the second with a smaller part of the orchestra, and the last with the full orchestra. The idea of a hard rock band playing along with a big symphony might sound just a little strange, but I have to hand it to the band and the people involved, because they made it work. The band is mostly the driving force in the music, but there are times when the symphony takes over and doesn’t disappoint. There was a nice synergy that developed, and made the event a success for the 35,000 people who viewed the show.

The one complaint I have involves the style of camera work on the entire program. I’m not sure how many camera crews they have going, but in the end, instead of putting together segments of tapes that flow into each other, the style is very cinema verité. The camera is shaky, but that is not the big problem. The problem is the quick cuts, and when I say “quick” I mean almost every two seconds. There were times when the camera cut after barely a second and a half, but hardly lasted for more than three seconds. At times, it was almost dizzying. Be warned. If this is not a concern, then the rest of the DVD is quite good.

Act I: Deuce; Strutter; Let Me Go Rock and Roll; Lick It Up; Calling Dr. Love; Psycho Circus.

Act II: Beth; Forever; Goin’ Blind; Sure Know Something; Shandi.

Act III: Detroit Rock City; King of the Night Time World; Do You Love Me; Great Expectations; Shout It Out Loud; God of Thunder; Love Gun; I Was Made for Lovin’ You; Black Diamond; Rock and Roll All Nite.

-Brian Bloom

YES Symphonic Live (2001) [DVD/CD combo]

with Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White; guest keyboardist: Tom Brislin; Orchestra cond. By Wilhelm Keitel
Studio: Eagle Eye Media
Video: enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital stereo
Length: 157 minutes (DVD)
Rating: ****

I found this one of the most enjoyable rock videos I have ever watched. Several groups of the 60s and 70s appeared occasionally with symphony orchestras, and this had been a dream of the long running Yes for some time. It finally happened in 2002 and this is both the video and audio record of it. Because of time constraints the DVD has 14 tracks and the CD only 10, leaving out the terrific two solos by guitarist Steve Howe, and also the title tune from their Magnification album. But it enables one to hear the music in your car, computer, or on your portable player. This is trend happening with more and more DVDs lately and very sensible it is. It may have to be done with more DVD-Audios if that format wants to meet the competition of the hybrid SACDs.

I had never seen Jon Anderson in action; he has all the new age gestures down pat but it’s great to hear such positive and life affirming lyrics as most of Yes’ music, and to see the type of audience they attract in Europe. The event was videotaped during a concert in Amsterdam. Both image and sound are excellent - the latter especially so in the DTS version. This DVD was an interesting contrast to the Deep Purple-with-Orchestra DVD-A reviewed in our Hi-Res section this month. In that one from l969 the four rock musicians were very young and the orchestra mostly middle-aged and senior British classical players who in some of the closeups appear not terribly pleased with their performing task. In the Yes concert it’s just the reverse - Anderson isn’t showing his age, but Howe looks very senior - yet the orchestra is all young people who clearly dig playing with the rock group and have their own little choreography - the wind section holding up their instruments in time to the music when not playing. For the finale of the group’s hit Roundabout many of the orchestra players get up and form a busy conga line behind Yes. Everyone seems to be living out Anderson’s dictum, Don’t Take Love for Granted. My only beef is that the DVD didn’t include either printed lyrics in a booklet or on the screen; in spite of Anderson’s good enunciation and an excellent mix I still couldn’t understand much of the words and I’m not about to play it so loudly that it flaps my subwoofers. What is this with omitting the printed lyrics from so many pop and classical vocal albums lately? (I don’t think being able to read their lyrics would be as embarrassing to Yes as it was reading E, L & P’s lyrics on their DVD-A! )

Selections on DVD: Overture, Close to the Edge, Long Distance Runaround, Don’t Go, In the Presence Of, Gates of Delirium, 2nd movt. of Lute Concerto in D Major, Mood for a Day, Starship Trooper, Magnification, And You And I, Ritual, I’ve Seen All Good People, Owner of a Lonely Heart, Roundabout.

- John Sunier

PROKOFIEV: War and Peace

Orchestra and Chorus of the National Opera of Paris. Conducted by Gary Bertini, staged by Francesca Zamabello. Olga Guyrakova, Nathan Gunn, Robert Brubaker, Anatoli Kotcherga, Elena Obraztsova.
Libretto: Mussorgsky, based on the play by Alexander Pushkin.
Studio: TDK (Naxos). DVUS -OPWP.
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.0
Extras: Chapter selections, The Making of War and Peace featurette.
Length: 289 minutes
Rating: ****1/2

There are operas that are aria powerhouses of like Verdi’s Rigoletto, or ones that immerse you in an overpowering creepy mood like Britten’s Turn of the Screw. Then there are ones that plunge you into an entire era of mores, music, and historical events--like Prokofiev’s War and Peace. Divided into two parts (Peace and War) the opera is a highly successful adaptation of Tolstoy’s famed novel. It is superbly well produced and acted, on the same level as the Kirov Opera’s production of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (1990). From Prince Andrei’s melancholic opening aria comparing himself to a ragged old oak to the musical contrast of girlish Natasha and Sonia in the next scene, we know we are in the hands of a musical and dramatic master. Prokofiev skillfully creates the mood of the time, like his simulacra of a nineteenth century dance in Scene 2 and the Verdi-like patriotic arias during the War section. I was especially moved by General Kutuzov’s aria When, oh when was the dreadful business decided? sung by the redoubtable Anatoli Kotcherga. Other singers are also top-drawer, culled from the very best of current Russian singers; for example Olga Guryakova (Natacha) and Leonid Zimnenko (Nikolai K Bolkonski). I wasn’t too keen on the American Robert Brubaker as a shrill-voiced Pierre Bezoukhov, but perhaps that was part of the point of his nebbish character. Nathan Gunn as Prince Andre Bolkonski portrayed a character of horrendous inner conflicts, primarily a man of soliloquies. His death scene is the most harrowing I’ve scene in opera since the death of Gudonov. It is so well directed and expertly sung and frightening, particularly as Natasha physically backs away from Andrei at the last moment, underscoring the point that at death we are ultimately alone.

Since this opera is so dependent on the power of its narrative, you can’t simply slap it on the DVD player and pick out great arias to show friends. I find most of Scene 5 (at Dolokhov’s house) musically uninteresting, and yet it shows the scoundrel’s character. However, other scenes effectively showcase Prokofiev’s twentieth century sardonicism, like the one in which Natasha meets the demented elder Count Bolkonsky or any ones involving Napoleon. War and Peace, clearly Prokofiev’s greatest opera, has been foreshadowed by his more catchy tuned ballets like Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. Yet like Tolstoy’s novel, if you stick with it, it unpeels its riches one by one.

-- Peter Bates

Nathan Milstein in Concert

BACH: Chaconne from D Minor Partita; Preludio from E Major Partita/MOZART: Adagio for Violin, K. 261; Rondo in C Major, K. 373; First Movement from Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, k. 219/PAGANINI: Two Caprices, Op. 1; Paganiniana (arr. Milstein)/FALLA: Jota and Asturiana from Suite populaire espagnole/NOVACEK: Perpetuum mobile/BRAHMS: Third Movement from Violin Concerto in D/BEETHOVEN: First and Third Movements from "Kreutzer" Sonata [Bonus Track: Mischa Elman plays KREISLER: Preghiera after Martini; Schoen Rosmarin with Joseph Seiger, piano (1962)]

Nathan Milstein, violin
Norman Del Mar conducts Philharmonia Orchestra (Mozart Cto; Brahms); Ernest Lush, piano; Georges Pludermacher, piano (Beethoven)

Studio: EMI 4901179
Video: Black & White 4:3
Audio: PCM Mono remastered for DVD
Extras: Bonus track with Mischa Elman
Length: 90:56
Rating: ****

Nathan Milstein (1904-1992) remains the violinist's violinist, a model of classical poise, elegance, and exciting refinement cut out of the same cloth as Heifetz, but with his own, distinctive, driven style. The video performances assembled here, 1957-1968, from London and Paris, are a strong representation of his mature playing, crisp, volatile, and self-possessed. Milstein would set a tempo (usually fast) and never deviate from its course. Yet, his was a remarkably full tone, and Milstein could set a cantilena high above the mortal world.

The London set from 1957 has the camera in medium-shot position in front of Milstein, with occasional shots of his instrument and bowing technique. Like Heifetz, there is no expressive mannerism besides the sheer digital application of the artist. Mozart's Adagio and Rondo (with a thoroughly competent Ernest Lush, who had accompanied Kreisler), are masterful examples of understated, etched perfection. The unaccompanied Caprices of Paganini give us rapid applications of staccato, spiccato, and double stops, with exalted arco passage work. The Falla excerpts simply sing; the Novacek perpetual-motion sizzles.

The Beethoven, Paganini-Milstein, and Bach come from Paris concerts for the ORTF 1963 and 1968. The complete Beethoven "Kreutzer" was issued on CD by DGG. The opening shot of the video for the Beethoven is right on the sound box of the violin and slowly pans out to take in the young but miraculously cool Georges Pludermacher. It was Milstein's early EMI recording of the Kreutzer with Artur Balsam that first dazzled the work into my consciousness. At the very end of the two movements of the Beethoven, the camera pulls back further to reveal a rapt audience. The playing of the Chaconne (December 10, 1968) is severe, masculine, passionate. The camera abandons Milstein after a while just to capture transfixed faces (some with complexion problems) watching a master interpret Bach. The arch and tension of the Chaconne is colossal. The Preludio is from 1963, where Milstein plays in a studio next to some large, rectangular, wooden mount or stage-rise, an eerie juxtaposition of musical and objective geometries.

Finally, a chance to see and to hear Norman Del Mar (1919-1984), a hard-working, under-rated conductor who did a lot of recording for the Music-Appreciation label in the early 1950's. Fluid and flexible, Del Mar manages to keep up with the fiery Milstein in Mozart and Brahms; these being 9 June 1963 studio inscriptions, where the only applause emanates from a dazzled Philharmonia Orchestra, obviously grateful to have collaborated with a legendary dynamo.

--Gary Lemco

Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (1976)

With Art Blakey, drums; David Schmitter, tenor sax; Bill Hardman, trumpet; Mickey Tucker, piano; Cameron Brown, bass
Studio: Polivideo/TDK Mediactive
Video: 4:3
Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: Biography of Art Blakey
Length: 61 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

This historic concert took place in the Caribbean either on a stage that looks like a simple street of apartments or perhaps in front of an actual such street. Image quality is a bit fuzzy and washed out but the DTS sound is terrific. I never got to hear Blakey live so this was a treat to hear and see the multi-rhymic artistry of the great drummer first hand. Along Came Betty and Blues March were my favorites of the six tracks. The opening and closing numbers are both over 12 minutes and give each one of the players a change to stretch out in some very creative soloing. Selections: Backgammon, Along Came Betty, Uranus, Blues March, All the things you are, Gipsy Folk Tales.

- John Henry

Rediscovering Dave Brubeck (2001)

Studio: TWI/Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital mono
Extras: Interviews, Behind-the-Scenes footage, additional music videos
Length: 57 minutes
Rating: ****

Created for a PBS Special, this is a fine portrait of a very creative artist who has been pleasing the world with his exciting music for over 50 years now and still going very strong in his 80s. Brubeck studied at Mills College with French composer Darius Milhaud and always had a rather experimental side to his classically-influence jazz which never stopped it from madly swinging on many occasions. His experiments with time signatures (as heard in Take Five) are of course one of his key attributes. He never compromised his musical path and yet soon found himself on the cover of Time magazine. His story of how badly he felt when he was shown the cover by Duke Ellington - who hadn’t appeared on it yet - illustrates Brubeck’s great humanity and integrity. He still maintains a dizzying touring schedule all over the world and has recently specialized in sacred cantatas and other liturgical music mixing classical and jazz. There are some fine separate interviews in the extras section. Sound was fine and it wasn’t until I checked the box afterwards that I realized it was just mono. [See Dave's latest jazz release in our Hi-Res section this month and next month look for a double-SACD of Brubeck choral works...Ed.]

- John Henry

Now for something completely different...

Heavy Organ - Tribute to Virgil Fox (2003)(DVD/CD Combo)

MOZART: Fantasy in F Minor; VIERNE: Claire de lune; REUBKE: Sonata in C Minor; HEBBLE: Londonderry Air; FRANCK: Grande Piece Symphonique - Richard Morris, Ruffatti pipe organ, Spivey Hall, Atlanta
Studio: Circles International/SeeMusicDVD
Video: 16:9 full screen enhanced of Digital Light Organ
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Extras: Booklet with program notes, color photos, history of Spivey Hall, organ specs, artist’s bio, technical info on Kaleidoplex
Length (both DVD & CD): 67:34
Rating: ****

Another combo DVD plus standard CD disc package, but this one is not your usual DVD at all. It is not a video of the organist at the keyboards - only the music - a typical program Virgil Fox would have presented - in excellent 5.1 sound. The on-screen images come from a gadget which Fox had commissioned to provide some exciting visuals for his touring show “Heavy Organ” in the 60s and 70s. It is a complex kaleidoscope called the Kaleidoplex which creates ever changing mandala-like abstract circular patterns in the center of the 16:9 screen (it also adapts to 4:3 screens) in connection with the music being heard. It divides images into 64 separate segments. The note booklet has a section on Visual Background Attributions, which lists in order the sources of art and photographs for each of the musical selections’ images. These images are also seen in low contrast in the background on either side of the mandala. For example, the Mozart Fantasy - originally written for a musical clock - has an astronomical ring dial at one point to tie in with the music. Digital electronics match the rotation and changes of the images to sync with the beat of the music. An unusual and captivating experience; I don’t think I’ve ever enjoy the big Franck organ symphony quite so much as with the surround sound and compelling imagery on the screen. There’s also a separate 44.1 CD of the music selections, which I actually slightly preferred when channeled thru ProLogic II in my Sunfire preamp, but without the color organ it wasn’t nearly as much fun.

- John Sunier

El Niño - Opera by JOHN ADAMS (2000)

Directed for the stage by Peter Sellars
Soloists: Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Willard White; Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier; London Voices, Theatre Musical de Paris-Chatelet; German Symphony Orch. Of Berlin/Kent Nagano
Studio: RM Associates/ArtHaus Musik (Distr. By Naxos)
Video: 16:9 widescreen enhanced
Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo (recorded live)
Extras: Making-Of featurette with interviews with Peter Sellars, Kent Nagano, Dawn Upshaw and John Adams
Length: 147 minutes
Rating: ***

Adams regards his telling of the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as his own version of Messiah. The main characters portrayed are modern-day versions of Mary, presented in separate settings alternating narration and music. In this fourth collaboration between Adams and Sellars in a stage musical work, the Christmas story as told in the American translation of the bible is mixed with added Latin American and Old English texts. Other parts of the text are in Latin and Spanish - the latter taken from mostly female Latin American poets. The participants in the oratorio are mostly dressed very informally except for a chorus in red outfits, and a big screen above them has low-res Super 8 film clips projected on it which fit in with the story, supposedly. The film clips switch between two locations - a desert-like setting with biblical associations or a contemporary setting such as a kitchen or bedroom. The opera is divided into 24 sections telling the Christmas story, and in each different one vocalists in various combinations and/or the chorus are featured. There are also three counter-tenors and some dancers.

The general theme is Mary’s experience in carrying the holy child, their flight to Egypt, and so on. But thru the bodies and experiences of modern-day Marys. Dawn Upshaw is a perfect choice for the lead Mary role; she looks and sounds alternately mystified and transfixed by the holy spirit and baritone Willard White is also a standout. Adam’s music failed to grab me and the drabness of both the stage costumes and the shots in the film clips. The frequent outstretched arm gestures of the chorus and counter-tenor “angels” got on my nerves after a while. (Perhaps it was due to having just watched the video of Yes’ Jon Anderson.) Anyway, this will be a fine experience for many viewers/listeners, but it wasn’t my cup of myrrh. (By the way, in both the note booklet and on the back of the box are references to "The Messiah" by Handel. Wrong, wrong. It's just plain Messiah) Purchase here

- John Sunier

See three more music video DVDs on Part 3 of DVD reviews this month!

Want to chat about video DVDs with other enthusiasts and read more DVD reviews? Check out the leading DVD Talk Forum - And if Music DVD-Vs are your thing, check out Music DVD World at

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