All-Star Orchestra DVD series with Gerard Schwartz (2013)

by | Jan 21, 2014 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews








All-Star Orchestra series w/ Gerard Schwartz (2013)

Performers: Gerard Schwarz and the All-Star Orchestra.
Studio: WNET/13 New York, Naxos (Distr. by Naxos) 
Catalog numbers: Disc 1: Naxos: 2 110348; Disc 2: Naxos: 2 110349; Disc 3: Naxos  2 110350; Disc 4: Naxos 2 110351 [11/19/13] – 4 DVDs available individually 
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: English DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: None
Region Code: Universal
Length: each disc 114 minutes
Audio: ****   Video: ***

This set of DVDs is an outgrowth of the PBS/WNET series of concerts performed by a made-for-TV orchestra composed of the best players drawn from 22 states—from orchestras in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and more. The finest players were chosen to make up this one-of-a-kind symphony orchestra.

Each disc contains two major works from the classical repertoire, followed by a contemporary work that is less well known. It’s an attempt to give contemporary music a broader audience and make the music more accessible visually and aurally.

In some cases, the whole symphony is not performed so each program can fit into a one-hour time slot. For example, Program 8 gives us some Mahler lieder and only the first movement of his Symphony No. 2. 

The performances are uniformly excellent. I listened to each program except for programs 5 and 6 which were not available for review. Each program was rehearsed and recorded in four days. The musicianship on display is always good, at times astonishing. 19 cameras covered the entire orchestra.

The recording was taped at New York’s historic Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center where conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, and Arturo Toscanini made their classical music recordings. Cameras were allowed to roam freely during the All-Star Orchestra’s recordings. Along with the performances are comments from Schwarz and his musicians, sometimes to talk about the history of the pieces being played, and augmented by thoughts from the musicians. While well-produced, I thought the ‘extras’ were the least appealing parts of the discs, but a novice listener will most likely appreciate them.

The downside to this extensive set is that the recorded sound completely overshadows the video which is only NTSC. That seems a major shortcoming, especially since the concerts were recorded in high definition.

For audio we get PCM Stereo /Dolby Digital 5.1 /DTS 5.1. The sound is stunning. There is no live audience for any of the performances, and I wonder what, if any ‘lift’ that might have given to the playing, but I simply can’t fault the orchestra.

In particular, I especially liked the performances of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, and the Phillip Glass Harmonium Mountain. But every work here is performed with precision and just electrified energy.

[On Programs 5 & 6 the Schumann is a gorgeous treatment and the notes on both Brahms and Schumann are the equal of the sort of thing Leonard Bernstein used to do on his Young Peoples’ Concerts. The Danielpour Piano Concerto movement and the complete Cello Concerto by Samuel Jones are very well introduced and a joy to hear in performance. Schwarz’ son is the excellent cello soloist in the Cello Concerto, and the young violinist Yevgeny Jutik is soloist in The Poet’s Hour by Joseph Schwantner, a most moving work for violin and orchestra. The one thing I would downgrade the series for is not the lack of the additional Blu-ray resolution (this is a wonderful transfer from the hi-def originals) but the fact that Schwarz’s spoken portions are at a much higher volume level than the music, necessitating frequent playback level adjustment…Ed.]

All the discs are worth owning for the music alone. Perhaps some day we will see a SACDs without all the chat, and I hope a Blu-ray release that would easily eclipse the NTSC offering.


Program 1 and 2 (Disc 1) =

“Music for the Theatre” featuring Igor Stravinsky’s Suite from the Firebird, Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2, and Bright Sheng’s Prelude to Black Swan.

“What Makes a Masterpiece?” featuring Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Philip Glass’ Harmonium Mountain

Program 3 and 4 (Disc 2) =

The New World and Its Music” featuring Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Avanti!

“Politics and Art” featuring Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5

Program 5 and 6 (Disc 3) =

“Relationships in Music” featuring Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish”

“The Living Art Form” featuring Richard Danielpour’s “A Hero’s Journey” (from Piano Concerto No. 4), Soloist: Xiayin Wang; Samuel Jones’ Concerto for Violoncello, Soloist: Julian Schwarz; and Joseph Schwantner’s The Poet’s Hour – Soliloquy for Violin, Soloist: Yevgeny Kutik

Program 7 and 8 (Disc 4) =

“Music’s Emotional Impact” featuring Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and David Stock’s Blast!

“Mahler: Love Sorrow and Transcendence” featuring Gustav Mahler’s Rueckert Lieder (Songs from Latter Days), Soloist: Nancy Maultsby, and “Totenfeier” (“Funerary Rites” – 1st Mvt. from Symphony No. 2); Augusta Read Thomas’ Of Paradise and Light; and Bernard Rands’ Adieu

—Mel Martin

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