, November 2001
First Naxos DVD-Audio release
Vivaldi disc has an appeal beyond dedicated players
Andrew Everard listens to the first DVD-A title from the budget label, and suggests it may point the way forward
It's a significant enough occurrence in itself: Naxos, the label that's done more than almost any other record company to make a wide range of music both available and affordable, has just released its first DVD-Audio title True, the choice of main content on Naxos 5. 110001 is hardly daring - it's Vivaldi's Four Seasons, here performed by The London Mozart Players led by David Juritz - but of more significance is that the disc is an original recording, made with multichannel reproduction in mind, and that it's also playable on conventional DVD-Video players. And that last pont should ensure it finds its way into many a collection that the lure of advanced audio formats has so far passed by.
Selling for £9.99, the disc won't work in CD players, as it would were it to be an SACD hybrid. However, thanks to the inclusion of both Dolby Digital and dts format encoding for as five-channel mix, alongside the multichannel DVD-Audio track, any DVD player will recognise and reproduce the disc, and do so to a very high standard. To most buyers that will be a lot more interesting than the version encoded to the DVD Audio standard, currently usable only on a small number of specialist players.
Recorded to a resolution of 24 bits/96kHz by K&A Productions in March 1999 at St Silas, Chalk Farm, London, and engineered by Andrew Lang, the release couples the Seasons with Vivaldi's two concertos for the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, scored for solo violin and two orchestras. This enables the disc to explore different recording techniques, the more conventional being the balance of the better known concertos, which places the performers across the front three speakers, and uses the rear channels merely to add ambience.
The other concertos, however, position the soloist between the two orchestras, one on the front speakers, the other on the rear channels. The impression is very much of a close-up view of soloist Juritz, surrounded by the other performers - hearing the music from a privileged perspective.
It's worth noting here that the sleeve of the disc is somewhat misleading when it mentions the presence of '5.1 Dolby Digital AC-3 and DTS Surround Sound': throughout the disc the presentation is in fact in 5.0, using the left, right, centre and left/right surround speakers, but no sub-woofer/low frequency effects channel. That's no great loss - I've heard more than a few DVD-A discs, both classical and popular, where the subwoofer seems strangely detached from what's happening on the main speakers.
So how does it sound? Well, this is probably heresy, but having heard the disc on both a proper DVD-A multichannel set-up and my usual DVD-Video reference rig - Rotel RDV-995 player, TAG McLaren AV32R/100X5R amplification and Monitor Audio and Yamaha speakers - I prefer the lower resolution version, and in particular the dts track. I'll leave it to mv colleagues at the front of the magazine to comment on the quality of the performance (we'll be reviewing the disc in our Awards issue - Ed), but the dts sound has a togetherness seemingly missing from the DVD-A version, which can seem a bit 'special effects' at times. The impression created by the drs view is of a more enveloping, more natural, all-around soundstage: the rear channels seem to be doing a bit too much in the DVD-A version, and are over-obvious in the Seasons. By contrast the dts and Dolby Digital version hang together much better, with fluidity and poise, nicely controlled rhythms and a fine bite to string tone - vital with music like this.
The 'Assumption' concertos are particularly fascinating, tempting the listener to sense the musicians all around. This is a very long way from the horrors of some of the pop and rock music so far remastered for DVD-Audio, which seems fascinated with the toys in the box, and throws the odd track of the mix, perhaps containing a guitar or part of the percussion, out to one of the rear speakers seemingly just because it can.
I've long been saving that I have the feeling DVD-Audio will eventually either become part of the specification of every DVD player sold or a red herring, record companies realising that the money's to be made selling discs that play on all DVD-Video hardware and existing home cinema systems. There's a huge installed base of, DVD-V machines worldwide, and the speed of growth in the UK has been phenomenal, so it would seem to make sense to me that discs should be targeted at those already able to play them, not for an elite few. Naxos has all its bases covered in this respect, with a disc that flies the flag for DVD-Audio, but also sounds good enough to be a must have for any home cinema enthusiast with any interest in classical music.