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4.3 out of 5 stars
Sacred Music (The BBCs Groundbreaking TV Series) [DVD] [2010]
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119 of 121 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2010
These shows were aired in the autumn of 2009 in the afternoon and was perfect viewing before catching the football scores. Here we have all four programmes with extras on two DVDs. Simon Russell Beale takes us through four periods: the Gothic Revolution, Palestrina, Tallis and Byrd, and finally J. S. Bach. The fact the series ends here might suggest that there might be another series (please!) looking at maybe Handel, Henry Francis Lyte and others.

Beale is excellent as a presenter. He has secure knowledege without sounding pompous and arrogant and he also does not try to be "a nice guy" like many others these days. He gets on with the programme without dumbing down leaving others to be anaytical, chiefly Harry Christophers, the conductor of The Sixteen who provide most of the excellent music.

Choral music of this kind rarely gets any attention and to hear it played in these magnificent cathedrals remind us of why they were written. The show also does not force religion onto the viewer and the show can be throughly enjoyed by all. I seriously did not think you could enjoy an hour of Gregorian chant but with the visuals, interviews and performances you can.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 23 February 2011
As someone who has sung in this tradition for most of my life, this is a wonderful opportunity to revisit some of my favourite repertoire and to have it set in its historical and social context. Very illuminating. More significantly, perhaps, is the attention this series turns on the art of choral singing and the precious value of sacred music, at a time when is very existence is threatened. Were it not for the endowed choral institutions of the great cathedrals and Oxbridge colleges, this priceless tradition in the UK might already have gone the way it has in the rest of Europe and the wider Western-Christian world: virtual extinction. I now live in Germany, birthplace of Bach, where the paucity of decent choirs - let alone good choirs - is striking. Finding a choir that can technically master Bach is rare now, and the prevailing level is low to poor. In France and Italy, almost non-existent. The few clips this DVD offers of Italian choirs attempting this repertoire are tellingly awful. The choir of the Sistine Chapel would not even make the relegation league reserves' XI of the English choral hierarchy.

While I lose myself in the wonderful music that comprises this series, and the superb singing and musical direction of the Sixteen, I am reminded that, without such choirs and such committed and knowledgeable conductors, the music itself would cease to exist. The Church in England, under the pretext of a drive for "relevance", has done its best over the last few decades to stamp it out; thank God it has somehow survived. Perhaps in another generation, those in a position to influence such things will realise the mistakes of their predecessors and actively work to protect and revitalise this unique tradition. It can only be hoped.

Simon Russell Beale is an excellent narrator, without the self-conscious mannerisms and intellectual vanity of someone like Melvyn Bragg, and charmingly cannot resist allowing his personal love of the music to come through his narration. Close to tears on seeing an autographed manuscript of Palestrina or the signature of Thomas Tallis, which I can well understand. Harry Christophers and The Sixteen are also a splendid choice as performers and musical guides, with Christophers providing some keen insights into more technical aspects of the music. What a fine choir. As to the poor technical quality of the DVDs mentioned by other reviewers, I am fortunate that my copy plays perfectly. For anyone with an existing love of or interst in this extraordinary music, I can only recommend this intelligent and moving production.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Too many people are put off the notion of Church music, which up to a point I understand. If you are one such person this DVD might well covert you, so wonderfully does it portray the depth, breadth and sheer spiritual punch of music written for worship over well nigh a thousand years. It is cerebral and sublime but it is only an introduction, with no one piece played in its entirety, yet stunningly sung by The Sixteen directed by Harry Christophers and filmed in many equally stunning yet relevant locations. Careful, you could get thoroughly hooked.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2011
With superb singing, brilliant conducting by Christophers,the best of Palestrina,Tallis,Byrd,Bach and others over the centuries from the Gothic Revolution, what more could one ask for. Not a lot; but they look great too.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 2 April 2010
I saw this series when it first went out in late 2008 on BBC 4 and was captivated by the combination of the glorious music and the learned approach to the development of the western choral tradition; I was frustrated to discover that the BBC hadn't made it available on DVD despite repeating it in 2009 (and now in 2010). Hooray for Corus, yet again!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 2013
Please don't be put off by the comments about the filming, although I do agree it's not a strength. I loved it. Russell Beale is so charming and knowledgeable and natural, it's ambitious and informative and the music itself is marvellous. It's very dense and repays watching more than once, so you should buy it for yourself, it's quite lovely.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I agree with those reviewers who say this is amongst the best recent output from the BBC and long overdue. The series could've been longer and more detailed and in depth (bring back the 12/13 episode sledgehammer format, I say!), but it does remind one of the serious-mindedness of such great classics as Civilisation, or Attenborough's Life Series.

I won't go into any detail re the content, I'll just add my voice to the 'hallelujah chorus' and sing the series praises. I do disagree with the one reviewer who thinks its a badly filmed series.* The stunning locations are well shot; Simon Russell-Beale is an excellent presenter, being both charming, and clearly passionate about the subject; so too Harry Christophers. And I think I enjoy The Sixteen most in this context. On the several occasions I've heard them perform live they were almost anaemically perfect, and didn't move me as much as I'd hoped they would. Whereas they certainly do on this series.

Subsequent to this release there's been the God's Composer programme on Victoria, and a shorter piece on Allegri's Misereri. Will there be a second full series? Or perhaps an enlarged Sacred Music DVD set at some point? I do hope so.

* I do know what that reviewer is getting at - modern continuity shots can be a bit odd - but I feel it's done well, and it helps bind together the old (the original music makers and their times) and the new (us!) in a pleasing way.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 November 2014
So far as it goes this is an excellent documentary series - it's not immediately clear from the title that the series is about 'early' sacred music - it ends with JS Bach and so there are some 250 subsequent years of sacred music that are neglected (perhaps a series 2). Even as a survey of early sacred music it is limited in its approach - for example there is no reference to the legacy of the patronage of the Este family in Ferrara; and the importance of Flemish composers from the medieval and renaissance periods is underplayed. But then again, there is only so much that can be done in 4 one hour episodes - and the coverage that is provided is excellent.

The performances of Harry Christophers's The Sixteen (who have of course recorded later repertoire) are, needless to say, sublime; and the few other performances are first rate. The photography of the venues is stunning and of particular note is the choice of other footage to accompany some of the commentary.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 June 2013
This Serie is absolutely recommended. The Presentation of Simon Russell Beale is top notch and the Music by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen simply wonderful.
The only Question that remains is: when is Series Two available on DVD?
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on 29 December 2013
Andy Robbins is one of those `special` enthusiastic authorities on his subject. And is a joy to watch.. So many BBC dvd`s seem to invite broadcasters (? authorities ) who`s faces pop up annoyingly, at every oportunity eg ,Alid Jones,Kathrine Jenkins, and that Italian `Venice `All showing inflated/ self appointed, faces and very little else. Andy Robbins gets into his subject, without any `self aggrandizement` He is a pleasure to see his genuine interest and his genuine enthusiasm for the subjects he involves himself.And his music, His enthusasm very soon influences enjoyment this recdrning.which has given me suh enjoyment
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