Richard Strauss: Odense Symphony Orchestra offers two pieces by Strauss, performed (as the title indicates) by the Odense Symphony Orchestra. The first piece is Four Last Songs (Vier Letze Lieder). This is a "Lieder," a German style piece that has vocals as a major component of the music. The second piece, A Hero's Life, Op: 40 (Ein Heldenleben) is in the symphonic style and is purely instrumental. The orchestra is directed here by Jan Wagner, and Gitta-Maria Sjöberg provides the vocals for Four Last Songs. The music was recorded from a live performance of the Odense Symphony Orchestra in the Odense Koncerthus on March 29-31, 1999.
The DVD opens with slightly over a minute of "concert atmosphere": we hear the musicians tuning their instruments and so on, exactly as we would in a real concert hall prior to the performance. It's a nice introduction and since it's a chapter by itself, listeners can skip it easily if desired.
While the music is playing, a static image occupies the screen, listing the name of the piece that's playing at the moment. A different image is provided for each movement, and each is mildly themed to the piece, with various flower and landscape images used. It's attractive but not particularly interesting, and I had concerns about burn-in from the bright white letters on my projection TV, so I just listened to the DVD with the TV turned off. It would have been nice if the video portion had included actual concert footage, which would have been worth watching, but unfortunately that's not the case.
The playlist is as follows:Concert atmosphere: 1.21
Vier Letze Lieder (Four Last Songs)
Frühling (Springtime): 3.53
Beim Schlafengehen (Going to Sleep): 6.01
Im Abendrot (In the Glow of Sunset): 9.09
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) Op. 40
Der Held (The Hero): 4.02
Des Helden Widersacher (The Hero's Adversaries): 3.19
Des Helden Gefährtin (The Hero's Companion): 12.42
Des Helden Walstatt (The Hero's Battlefield): 7.20
Des Helden Friedenswerke (The Hero's Works of Peace): 7.01
Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung (The Hero's Retreat from the World and Fulfillment): 12.13
Total running time is 72 minutes.
Richard Strauss: Odense Symphony Orchestra comes with two audio options: Dolby 5.0 (96 kHz/24 bit) and Dolby stereo (48 kHz/24 bit). The default option is the Dolby 5.0; the stereo option can be selected through the "audio options" menu, but not changed on the fly.
The 5.0 track is obviously the star of this DVD, with all five channels are used to create an immersive experience. Some localization of different instruments to the specific channels is used, though not as much as it could have been. The sound is rich and full, with the individual instruments (as well as the singer's voice in Four Last Songs) coming across distinctly while at the same time blending into a harmonious whole. The depth and quality of the sound is significantly superior to that on a CD.
The stereo option also sounds good, though it's quite a step down from the full experience of the Dolby 5.0 track. The main difference is that it obviously uses fewer channels and lacks the depth and richness of the 5.0 track. However, it's still at least as good as a CD track, and means that listeners who haven't yet upgraded their systems can enjoy this DVD now with the promise of an even better sound experience later on down the line.
There's not much by way of special features on this DVD-Audio disc. A section of biographies gives text information on Richard Strauss, the two pieces included on this DVD, the Odense Symphony Orchestra, conductor Jan Wagner, and singer Gitta-Maria Sjöberg. Unfortunately, the text is presented in all capital letters and is rather hard to read. The other main special feature is an audio setup program, which provides two suggested speaker setups for the home theater, and gives a test sequence for the surround speakers.
The menu setup is fairly easy to navigate, though it's set up rather oddly. Once the DVD starts, it is possible to use the "skip" key to move to individual movements within a piece, but oddly, though the playlist in the menu lists the component parts of each piece, it only allows you to select the main piece. Another menu peculiarity is that the "menu" key will get you nowhere: the DVD starts playing from the beginning as soon as it's put in the player, and if you want to access the menu you have to use the "top menu" key.
Richard Strauss isn't one of my favorite classical composers, but I found the pieces here to be quite enjoyable, especially A Hero's Life. I was very impressed with the sound experience provided by the Dolby 5.0 track, which was significantly better than any CD, and I'd recommend this DVD-Audio to any listener who enjoys Richard Strauss.