This should not be
considered a definitive performance
of Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica.
It is more a travelogue film which uses
the full edition of the symphony as
background music. It is not that Judd’s
reading is poor, it is just that for
a full appreciation of RVW’s groundbreaking
score, there are much better performances
of the work around (Boult, Haitink and
Handley - to name just three), although
none of these are on DVD.
Very little information
is given about the recording of the
symphony. It is possible that this is
the Naxos recording of the work, and
if the visual elements of this release
are less of interest, then I would suggest
the CD gives a better idea of the performance
than this DVD. The sound is noticeably
compressed and this is easily apparent
in numerous places throughout the score.
Given the wide dynamic range of the
DVD sound it would have been better
to leave well alone, given that this
is a digitally recorded performance;
the engineers should have known better.
Indeed, this could have been a BBC broadcast
or Classic FM recording, the compression
is so bad.
However, the visual
aspects of this DVD are far more important.
With this release you get the symphony,
accompanied by still and time-phased
photographs of many polar scenes with
no shots of the orchestra. These images
are often superb so much so that one
is unlikely to notice the shortcomings
in the recorded sound. The DVD certainly
conveys a vivid impression of Antartica
and its physical conditions without
the discomfort of actually being there.
When we reach the end
of the Symphony another benefit of this
release is apparent. About two-thirds
of the content of the disc are devoted
to documentaries about the continent
and the explorers who have opened out
the place. These documentaries are mixtures
of paintings, old filmed excerpts of
the early expeditions by various explorers
and their teams, contemporary shots
of life on board cruise ships, research
bases and staggeringly beautiful scenic
panoramas in all kinds of weather.
In addition there is
a section in text alone (no sound) which
gives a comprehensive history, the main
explorers and their achievements throughout
the two hundred year history of the
continent. This text even refers to
the lengths tourists must go to in order
to minimise pollution. This includes
defecating on board ship prior to going
ashore rather than leaving personal
bundles within the confines of the shore-based
There is also a recommended
further reading list for those interested
in the Antartica with Reader’s Digest
getting a well-deserved plug.
The only totally infuriating
aspect was associated with choosing
options on the menu screens. The contrast
between ‘selected’ and ‘not selected’
is so poor that one is not at all sure
which section of the disc has been chosen.
The only excuse may be that due to my
slight colour blindness this may be
my own problem. However don’t say that
you weren’t warned.
A very entertaining
release which is well worth viewing
and returning to, as I have done.