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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Concert > Drama > Politics > Comedy > Piano > Orchestra > Arabella (R. Strauss/Electric Pictures/Unitel Classica)/Pergolesi: Il Prigioner superbo/La serva padrona (ArtHaus)/Dances & Dreams (Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle/Kissin/EuroArts)/Itzhak Perlman/Israe

Arabella (R. Strauss/Electric Pictures/Unitel Classica)/Pergolesi: Il Prigioner superbo/La serva padrona (ArtHaus)/Dances & Dreams (Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle/Kissin/EuroArts)/Itzhak Perlman/Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Beethoven (EuroArts Blu-ray + DVD)/Marriage Of Figaro (Opera Australia + Bel Air/Paris Blu-rays)/Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina (Nagano/EuroArts/Unitel Classica)/Nabucco (Verdi/Mariotti/Teatro/C Major/Unitel Classica)/Nobuyuki Tsujii: Live At Carnegie Hall (EuroArts)/Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (Opus Arte/Naxos Blu-ray)


Picture: B- (Mussorgsky: C+)     Sound: B (Perlman: B-/Nabucco & Pergolesi: B+)     Extras: C+ (Bel Air Figaro & Wagner: B-/Perlman: C)     Main Programs: B (Pergolesi: B+/Mussorgsky: C+)



Here are some interesting, quality and recent releases from Naxos great group of affiliated labels…



Richard Strauss’ Arabella is the tale of the title character and her sister Zdenka, both trying to find real live, but their father is as much of a problem trying to marry them off as just finding a good man.  This libretto was the last written by Strauss’ co-writer Hugo von Hoffmannsthal who died before this was totally completed.  You would not know that from the opera performance here taped at the Wiener Staatsoper directed by Sven-Eric Bechtoff.  It is consistently effective and a nice way to be introduced to this almost-complete work.



Next we have a rare double feature on one disc.  Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Il Prigioner superbo (aka The Proud Prisoner in a tale of two men (one a dethroned king) competing for the love of the same woman) & La serva padrona (aka The Servant Turned Mistress) are two recent tapings of these lesser heard and seen operas that also happen to be one of the best sonic releases on the list.  Prigonier may be slightly better than serva in this way, but are top rate all around properly paired as semi-comical tales of romance and the many obstacles in its way and is the best release on this strong list of releases.



Dances & Dreams from the Berliner Philharmoniker is the latest release from Simone Rattle and Evgeny Kissin in a classical program of instrumental music by Dvorak, Grieg, Ravel, R. Strauss, Stravinsky and Brahms.  As I watched, I realized that we have covered their work before, sometimes together, at these links:


Yefim Bronfman/Simon Rattle: Tchaikovsky Blu-ray



Mussorgsky & Borodin/Rattle Blu-ray



Warsaw Recital Blu-ray



Joaquin Achucarro/Simon Rattle Blu-ray




This is as good as any of those predecessors and a solid concert performance all the way.  Especially since it offers more composers in one show than usual, this is an ideal such release to catch on Blu-ray more than usual if you are looking for a release with diversity.



The legendary Itzhak Perlman & The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra deliver an evening of Beethoven with guests Navah Perlman, Zuill Bailey and Giora Schmidt playing a Triple Concerto of Symphony No. 6 in F Major and at 90 minutes, is a real event with talent we do not hear or especially see enough.  Also issued on DVD separately from the Blu-ray, it is one of the best and most memorable Beethoven releases of many we have covered over the years and is highly recommended.



In an unexpected turn, we get to cover two versions of Mozart’s all-time classic comic opera The Marriage Of Figaro in two different but very effective performances from both Opera Australia at 183 minutes and Paris via the Bel Air label at 178 minutes.  Both are grand in their own ways, though the Paris version may be more lush and vintage, yet they are fair representations of the legendary work.  The French version has the “Le Nozze Di Figaro” title on its cover so you can tell the difference sooner if you seek both of them out to compare.  They also have some of the bets singing on the list, so you cannot go wrong with either and big fans will want both.



Conductor Kent Nagano gives us Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina in an updated version staged by Dmitri Tcherniakov from the Bayerische Staatsoper that is not bad, but I had mixed feelings about this performance.  I don’t know if setting it in a later time and/or with newer items worked, nor did it stay with me, a result of it playing as uneven when all was said and done.  It is still worth a look if you are a fan of the composer and/or respect him as I do, but I had some misgivings and would like to see a few more versions to further compare it to.



Giuseppi Verdi’s Nabucco involves a battle by The King of Babylon against a group of Jews/Hebrew slaves for control, power and the future as inter-entanglements prove to add complications for all in a drama that seems as relevant as ever and has eerie echoes of the situation now going on in the Middle East insofar as ideas from the Old Testament that this is based off of seem all too familiar.  The visuals of the slaves purposely reference The Holocaust and that makes this one of the most challenging releases on this list.  Everyone should see this one at least once.



Next we have a great concert by a young pianist in Nobuyuki Tsujii: Live At Carnegie Hall featuring the young, gifted artist from Japan who happens to be blind and possibly the best pianist of his generation.  If not, he is near it delivering great performances by John Musto, Beethoven, Liszt, Stephen Foster, Chopin, his own composed tribute “Elegy For The Victims Of The Earthquake & Tsunami of March 11, 2011” and a version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition so good, even Emerson, Lake & Palmer would be impressed.  At 97 minutes, I had to wonder if a star was b0orn, if I had just seen a legend in the making at work, a genius now and to be.  We’ll see, but even if he is this good henceforth, I expect Mr. Tsujii to have a long and enduring career.  This is my personal favorite of all the release son this list.



Finally we have Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg in a double Blu-ray set (this runs 280 minutes!) and is not the first time we have covered this epic.  You can read more about it at these links:

Lorenz DVD



Bayreuth Festival Blu-ray




This Glyndebourne production impressed me more than the Bayreuth Festival version ands simply delivered the work in a fuller way for me, though my fellow writer might have been more impressed with the Lorenz DVD version just the same, but this tale of love, wealth and maybe fate with heavy religious undertones is handled admirably by Conductor Vladimir Jurowski with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  No, it does not make me a big fan of it, but at least this time, this one worked for me.



The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on all the Blu-rays look good with only limited issues of staircasing, some motion blur or minor detail issues, but Mussorgsky was just a bit weaker and more problematic with darkness that could not always resolve itself and more motion blur than expected to the point that the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image of Perlman (which is only slightly less good looking than the Blu-ray version) actually looks a bit better than this Blu-ray.



All the Blu-rays have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes save a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.0 lossless mix on the Bel Air Figaro and both Perlman releases (Blu-ray and DVD) only offer PCM 2.0 Stereo, the alternate track on the rest of the Blu-rays.  The Perlman Blu-ray sounds barely better and both play additionally well with Pro Logic decoding.  The DTS-MA 5.1 on the Nabucco and Pergolesi Blu-rays are the sonic champs however, with amazing soundfields, exceptional recordings, solid soundstages and superior dynamic range that will surprise and impress audiophiles who don’t expect video releases to sound so good.

Extras in all cases include nicely illustrated, multi-language booklets on their respective programs and most have trailers for other releases, save the Perlman releases.  Arabella, Wagner and Australia Figaro add Cast Gallery sections, while Wagner adds two featurettes on the show.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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