Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only if you fancy staring at Barenboim's face, the piano case or the walls and don't mind the cropping, 20 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas (Sonatas Recorded In Vienna 1983-84) (Daniel Barenboim) (Euroarts: 2066424) [Blu-ray] [2012] [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
Overall: 3.5 Performance: 4.5-5/5 Picture: 2.5/5 Sound: 4.5/5

Few would dispute that Barenboim is a leading exponent of Beethoven. Having listened to his later sonata cycles (the first on EMI is on its way) I put his Beethoven overall somewhere middle of the road. That is actually a compliment. His whole conception, pacing and rhetoric fall naturally into place. That is not to say he has the last word: I have many sets which I return to for individual sonatas.

Alas, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this Blu-ray re-issue of old laser discs. The technical issues are:

1. The picture has been cropped from 4:3 to 16:9, thereby losing a quarter of the total (split between the top and bottom, not necessarily equally). It is not the director's intention. A lot of times the piano and performer are in the bottom half of the frame and the legs of the piano, and/or part of the keyboard are cut off. The pianist is now much closer. The whole framing composition and perspective are destroyed. I can use my video processor to unzoom it back to fit a 4:3 frame (like non-anamorphic widescreen DVDs) and it looks so right all of a sudden. If you don't know that many viewers hate cropping, read the the reviews and comments in other Blu-rays that suffer the same fate (Thunderbirds and The World at War) on Amazon and elsewhere. EuroArts seem to have fallen into a habit of doing this for a few titles now and they don't get the message as long as they get 5* votes.

2. The video has been frame-converted from 25 frames per second to 23.98. Sometimes in the fast passages (not many of these) there is breaking up or jerkiness of movement. This would be expected in the original frame rate but it could be made worse by frame conversion.

3. There seems to be more audio-video out of sync than usual compared to other Blu-rays. This may be partly equipment dependent and usually correctable. The stereo PCM track itself is fine.

4. Every sonata's opening credit says it is dedicated to Haydn: this is only true for the first three Op. 2! Obviously they recycled the same credits for the whole set and it indicates lack of attention to details (I don't know if this originates from the laser discs).

Then there is the photography. A lot of times the camera focuses on Barenboim's face at close range (occupying nearly half the screen) for prolonged periods, so much I can remember his facial details. Other times the camera stares at the end of the piano or the walls. There are complete movements (like the first in the Pathétique) where the hands and the keyboard are not shown at all. In that movement, the camera zooms in slowly towards the end of the piano and zooms out and that's it. What does that convey? It is especially infuriating when I specifically want to watch how he plays a particular passage and I am denied the opportunity. I gain nothing watching his face or the walls and I dozed off on occasions when this happened. It's not how I like to watch a filmed recital.

In the short interview, Barenboim said he wanted the director to film it so the breaks occur at suitable transitions in the music but in reality this isn't adhered to. If you already have the DG CD set from around the same time (they do not seem to be identical takes but should be close enough) then don't bother. If you don't and wish to try Barenboim then buy the CDs (any cycle, all at budget prices), the Blu-ray isn't worth having as a first encounter. If you need to watch him play then get the EMI DVDs from the 2000s: despite the constant camera changes you see a lot more of the action and no cropping.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Aug 2013 18:31:17 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 Aug 2013 18:32:22 BDT
Thank you for that unflinching Review. I'll wait for Barenboim to record it all on BD or 4K or the one after that (16K?). He's probably got several more Years of Brilliant Artistry left in him!

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2013 08:41:18 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Sep 2013 08:25:47 BDT
T. Wei says:
Thank you for your comments.

The current 1080i60 HD standard for concerts and recitals if done properly can be very rewarding. The EMI DVD cycle is likely recorded in 1080i60. The advantage 4K or UHD on BD brings to watching piano playing isn't so much the increased resolution as such for most home viewers on 50"-70" screens but the increased frame-rate at 60 or 120 fps to capture the occasional fast finger-work. I welcome 4K for movies with actors and actresses; given the tendency for some directors to dwell on the player's face for extended periods I'd rather not have to endure that in 4K.

Still, another video cycle or selected sonatas from Barenboim would be welcome.

Posted on 14 Oct 2013 03:28:21 BDT
Mr H Bolet says:
Thank you so much for informing me about the cropping. I checked the preview at youtube and the cropping really is irritating. Otherwise, I would buy this straight away. Note: 4:3, the original aspect ratio is kept for his complete Mozart sonatas - a wonderful set of DVDs. I've never been a real Barenboim fan, but his Mozart from those years (89-90) is sublime.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2013 09:59:22 BDT
T. Wei says:
You're very welcome. I wasn't aware of the Mozart DVD set and it has no Blu-ray counterpart: that explains the retention of OAR. I have the EMI CD set already.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Oct 2013 14:00:25 BDT
Mr H Bolet says:
By the way, T Wei, when you say that you can unzoom this to 4:3 can you actually see the cropped bits? Please excuse me if this question is silly, but I still haven,t purchased a bluray player yet, so there are aspects of the comments pertaining to this set which I can not comprehend - such as saying that the DVD of Mozart not being bluray explains the OAR. Couldn't they crop it for DVD also if they wanted to commit that offence?

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2013 09:12:28 BDT
Last edited by the author on 20 Oct 2013 09:13:33 BDT
T. Wei says:
Hi Tom,

(1) No, what's cropped is discarded for good. The 1920x1080 image is all there is and there's nothing hidden. Unzooming (more correctly 'underscan') only shrinks the 16:9 image on all sides equally to the central 4:3 viewing area and in doing so adds black bars on top and bottom. It's like 'letterbox' DVDs with 'window-boxing'. What underscan does is to restore the original perspective (you feel you're at the proper distance and not so close to the artist, not so much of facial details like hair follicles).

Note most Blu-ray players and HDTVs don't have unzoom function. I use a video processor to do it.

(2) Yes, they can crop it for DVD too but I've only seen cropping 4:3 to 16:9 when Blu-ray is released also. If it's for DVD-only release I very much doubt the studios would spend the money doing the cropping and reframing.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2013 11:22:39 BDT
Mr H Bolet says:
Thanks for taking the time to answer.
Because I've been enjoying the Barenboim Mozart set so much, (incidentally, probably the best "directing" of a solo keyboard performance for TV that I've ever seen) I've taken the plunge and ordered this set and purchased a Bluray player too. All shall be revealed soon, I guess. I dread the cropping, but I don't see them reissuing this in its OAR any time soon.
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