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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Concert > Cello > Der Zwerg/Der zerbrochene Krug/LA Opera (Art Haus Blu-ray) + Wagner’s Ring Cycle Highlights/Mehta (Unitel Classica Blu-ray) + Cello/Master Class/Maria Klieger (Naxos DVD w/book) + Honegger Comp. Violi

Der Zwerg/Der zerbrochene Krug/LA Opera (Art Haus Blu-ray) + Wagner’s Ring Cycle Highlights/Mehta (Unitel Classica Blu-ray) + Cello/Master Class/Maria Klieger (Naxos DVD w/book) + Honegger Comp. Violin Sonatas/Kayaleh & Stewart + Idil Biret Archive Ed 1/Liszt + Biret Archive Ed 8/Beethoven + David L. Post: String Quartets Nos.. 1 – 4 + Lyapunov Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2/Yablkonsky + Saint-Saens: Music For Wind Instr./Lemelin + Strauss V.17/Zilina & Pollack/Marco Polo+ Ultimate Opera Series CD Sets: Mozart/Puccini/Verdi/Wagner (Naxos CDs)


Picture: B-/B-/C+     Sound: B/B/C+/B (B-)     Extras: C+/C+/B (CDs: C-)     Concerts: B-/Cello: B/Music: B (Post and Liszt: B-)



Wrapping up the Naxos-distributed releases for 2010, we look at a few more Blu-rays, a very impressive DVD and their underrated line of CDs.  I give the company credit here because they were pushing the genre in the format when the major record labels were starting to give up on Classical Music, but Naxos believed in the genre, produced the most affordable line of CDs in it so everyone could afford them and now they are the #1 Classical Music Genre label in the world.


First comes a rare double feature Classical Blu-ray of Alexander Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf (Der Zwerg) and Viktor Ullmann’s The Broken Jug (Der Zerbrochene Krug), which are good and makes an interesting pair, both conducted by James Conlon.  However, the results are mixed and I can see why they are on one Blu-ray.  They are worth seeing, but I would like to see other performances to compare to, though these are rarely performed and the first time we have seen either.  The LA Opera does a good job, but both seemed a little out of the element.


We reviewed the Rheingold section of the Zubin Mehta version of Wagner’s Ring Cycle before and this new sampler Blu-ray is more of the same.  You can read about our coverage here and we are always covering versions of the work in general:




The pleasant surprise this month is an extensive look at how to play the great instrument the Cello, made easy and explained in the most thorough, professional way possible by Maria Kliegel in the Master Class DVD series from Naxos that includes a DVD set with a booklet inside its case and a larger 198 page softcover book (all inside a slide case) that is remarkable and a gift-level quality release.  Miss Kliegel is someone who is smart, articulate and has priceless advice on how to handle this instrument (and more for that matter) that makes this set worth every penny.  I hope this is the beginning of an extensive series everyone can enjoy and learn from, because I was very impressed.


That leaves the CDs, which includes four double-CD volumes of music by for key composers: Mozart, Puccini, Verdi and Wagner, which are solid offerings for fans and those trying to experience a given legend’s key output.  The Ultimate Opera Albums series is decent and better than expected, not being as generic as it could have been and are quality compilations featuring various artists throughout.  Two CDs from Idil Biret are from another series I had not come across before, including one on Beethoven (Archive Edition 8 with Sonatas No. 8 & 29) from 1986 and a new one on Liszt from (Solo Edition 1 with Sonata in B Minor and Paganini) this year that sounds a little harsher than the older recording.  Marco Polo has Johann Strauss I, Edition V. 17 as they issued their latest in a long running series with the Slovak Sinfonietta Zilina and Christian Pollack.  With no new widely established audio format, you can see music artists issuing their works on CD is more than alive and well, even when the major labels dropped the ball.


Finally, we have five general Naxos CDs by the Rutgers Wind Ensemble (Strange Humors with compositions by Mackey (the title music), Daugherty and Syler) from three 20th Century composers, the Hawthorne String Quartet playing David L. Post’s String Quartets Nos. 2 – 4, Saint-Saens Music For Wind Instruments by Canada’s National Arts Center Wind Quintet, Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov’s Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 from Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra and Arthur Honegger Complete Violin Sonatas by Laurence Kayaleh on violin and Paul Stewart on Piano.


These are all competent recordings and well recorded in just about all cases, but I am so used to the higher quality sound on Naxos Blu-ray and SA-CD releases that this seemed like a nostalgia trip ion some level, even for the new recordings.



The two Blu-rays offer 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers that are a little softer than expected, in each case, though color can be good.  The Cello DVD is at 1.78 X 1 is anamorphically enhanced and is a little softer that expected and all three have their motion blur issues.  However, they are all watchable enough, in part by simply being so interesting.


All the Blu-rays have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless sound mixes that fare better than their images, which helps, while the Cello DVD has lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo that is just fine for an instructional project.  The CDs have their good old PCM 2.0 16/44.1 Stereo and all sound fine, though the Post and Liszt CDs are a little digital harsh sounding for the format.


We already noted the extras on the Cello set above, while the Blu-rays have trailers and booklets with more information (in multiple languages, of course) on the performances.  The CDs also have their own similar booklets, but not always as extensive in information.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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