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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Christmas Glory from Westminster Abbey (1999)

"O come all ye faithful."
- Choir of Westminster Abbey

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 10, 2001

Stars: Andrea Boceli, Charlotte Church, Bryn Terfel
Other Stars: Richard Griffiths, Sir Trevor McDonald, Joan Plowright, Greta Scacchi, Choir of Westminster Abbey, City of London Sinfonia, Martin Baker, conductor
Director: Derek Bailey

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 00h:59m:47s
Release Date: October 16, 2001
UPC: 037429161326
Genre: classical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A-B+C+ D-

DVD Review

Home Vision presents us with a disc of Christmas song, verse and prose, from within the gorgeous and baroque walls of Westminster Abbey in London. Several of today's most popular classical vocalists, Andrea Boceli, Charlotte Church and Bryn Terfel make appearances, as do a number of dignitaries and actors.

In addition to traditional carols such as O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, there are classical works as well, including two selections from Handel's Messiah, Schubert's Ave Maria and Mille Cherubini in Coro and a setting of Sancta Maria to Mascagni's Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. Scattered in between are an introduction to Westminster Abbey by HRH Prince Philip, readings from the gospels of Luke and John, the poem Eddi's Service by Kipling, a tale of Christmas 1914 at the Western Front and the ending of Dicken's Christmas Carol. The intermingling of music, scripture, verse and prose gives the program a quaint and slightly old-fashioned but ultimately comforting feel.

The music is performed with a smallish chamber orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia. They do a particularly commendable job on the music of Handel. Terfel and Boceli are in fine voice and render their numbers (two apiece) with conviction and depth. Charlotte Church has a powerful soprano and can handle the high registers with the best of them, but seems to be rather thin and gasping in the lower sections of the music. Her duet with Terfel on Silent Night comes across rather better than her solo rendition of The Holy City by Stephen Adams. The choir is all male, which leads to some rather unfortunate results. In particular, the boy soprani are not at all up to the higher sections of Handel's For Unto Us a Child is Born; they are straining and occasionally flat, which would not have been the case with proper female soprani.

The text segments are well-chosen and positive. In addition to the predictable nativity story from Luke, the mystical beginning of the gospel according to John is included as well. Griffiths is highly entertaining in his reading of Dickens, putting so much into his gleeful portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge that he's quite out of breath before he can give Tiny Tim's concluding valedictory.

If anything, the program is rather on the brief side, running a shade under one hour. The combinations of text and music are quite pleasing and I would not have minded at all if the program had gone on for another half-hour or so. I also would have liked to have seen more of the Abbey itself; for all we view of the Abbey, the program could have been set anywhere.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The picture is presented in a nonanamorphic 1.66:1 ratio. While slightly soft, there are no visible compression artifacts. Colors are in general very good indeed, with the red of the choir's robes being nearly overpowering. However, the red does not succumb to smearing. The picture is heavily weighted toward reds and golds, which appears to be a result of the lighting choices in the cavernous abbey. Black levels are surprisingly deep.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The sound is decent but unimpressive. Deep bass is nearly completely lacking, and the organ has none of the impact that it should. The sound is a little on the thin and anemic side throughout. The vocal performances generally come through quite well. There is one segment of distortion in the Silent Night duet; the horns sound badly distorted as they play their countermelody. Hiss is kept at very low levels so as to be unnoticeable unless you're looking for it. Occasionally a bit of background noise can be heard during the spoken segments. The surround coding puts the music on all sides, which will not be to all tastes. Other than the vocals being centered, no directionality is apparent. On a program of this length, we would have been much better served by a proper PCM track; there was no reason to use a 224 kbps compressed audio track here.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No extras are provided. The chaptering is wholly inadequate; not only are there several works on each chapter stop, but the works are not all identified on either the insert or the on-screen menu. There should have been more than double the number of chapter stops that we have here.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

An all-too-brief but generally pleasing amalgam of Christmas music, poetry and prose that has a few shortcomings. Picture and sound are not all they could be, and the chaptering is wholly inadequate. It's nonetheless worthwhile for those looking for a Christmas DVD. The performances of Terfel, Boceli and Griffiths by themselves justify the purchase price.


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