I own almost all of the choral DVDs in existence, and this is the best. The music selection is very good and the musical quality of the performance superb, but I could say the same regarding many other choral DVDs.
What makes this one the best is the producers' realization that they were making an actual movie, not just adding a visual element to a choral recording. There is a huge difference between making a movie and just adding a visual element. Other choral DVDs are to be seen; this one is to be beheld.
The subject matter of this DVD, and the others I have, is the closest we humans can come to angelic music. If we want more than simply to hear this music being sung, we cannot be satisfied with just seeing it being sung; we must behold it being sung. All the arts Hollywood has developed over the past century have to to be employed in order to enable us truly to behold the singing of this music. The producers of this DVD have emplyed them.
First there is the art of lighting. The producers have achieved nearly angelic perfection in this department. Dayilight flouescents are used, with a slight pink-purple cast. The choristers are mostly backlit, but their faces seem never to be in shadow. The lighting is diffuse enough so that there are never any shadow lines, yet there is spledid constrast depth.
Next there is the camera work. There are distant group shots, showing much of the chapl's beutiful wood interior, along with narrow group shots, shots of individual choristers and instrumentalists, fade-ins and fade-outs. All these are seemlessly intertwined.
Put these two traditionally Hollywood arts together and what do you get? Rachmaninov's "Hymn of the Cherubim" has to be one of the most angelic pieces ever composed. The opening "Holy, Holy, Holy ... Blessed Trinity" is truly mystical. The camera starts with a distant shot of the choir very bightly and beautifully lit in a dark yet clearly visisble chapel inerior. The camera then focuses on three individual choristers, not brightly lit, setting the stage for a bright, very constasty screen-filling group shot that almost stuns the beholder, to the extent that it can be breath-taking in the literal sense. What a complement to Rachmaninov's musical near-mysticism!.
Then there is the color engineering. Two anthems feature a cellist and the camera spends much of the time focusing on her visully magnificent instrument. I suspect that color engineering is largely responsible for the cello's increadibly rich red-brown color. So what if no cello in reality actually looks like that? Did I not say earlier that the glory of this DVD is that it was made to be a movie? It does what movies are supposed to do -- make the fanciful look as if it were real. There is no appearance of artifice in the cello's lusciously beautiful color. The only thing that tells me that artifice is at work here is that I have seen a great many stringed instruments but none so richly red-brown.
I have only two negative comments regarding this DVD. First, putting Parts 1 and 2 into separate titles makes skipping round the disc needlessly cumbersome.
I know that my second negative comment will sound harsh and perhaps mean and maybe even un-Christian. But I have to say it, given my stance that choral DVDs have to be made so that they end up being movies, not just represent the addition of a visual element to a choral recording. The incipient acne on a couple of the boys could have been deleted more effectively than it was, either in the make-up room or in post-recording electronic editing. And, I am compelled to say, one or two of the choristers who were the subject of close-up shots ought not to have been. Movie-makers and advertizers have conditioned us all to expect very fine appearances all the time, to the degree that we are naturally distracted by less-than-fine appearances even if they fall well short of being ugly. Think of the Permian Panther football team in Friday Night Lights. The average high school team would most likely not have a single player who would get past Central Casting's appearance screener so as to make it onto the screen Panthers. The director did not think we all supposed that football players were advertizing material photogenically, but knew that the un-Hollywood appearance of most actual players would distract the audience away from the plot.
I have a Christmas DVD featuring another English choir, this one with women sopranos and altos. Several of the women truly ought not to have been the subject of close-up shots. If my saying this is un-Christian, then so is anyone's insistance that recording sessions should be restricted to choristers who are able to sing on pitch.
I unreservedly give this DVD five stars, but I hope that future chral DVD makes will implement the things I say here to the extent that some day soon a DVD this good whould only rate three stars.