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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Instrumental > Concert > Opera > Drama > Ballet > Documentary > Bach: Matthaus - Passion (ArtHaus/Naxos Blu-ray)/Barrymore (2012/RLJ/Image Blu-ray)/Bruckner: Symphony No. 4/Welser-Most (ArtHaus)/La Voix Humaine: Poulenc (Champs Hill Records)/MacMillan’s Romeo & Ju

Bach: Matthäus - Passion (ArtHaus/Naxos Blu-ray)/Barrymore (2012/RLJ/Image Blu-ray)/Bruckner: Symphony No. 4/Welser-Most (ArtHaus)/La Voix Humaine: Poulenc (Champs Hill Records)/MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet: Royal Opera House (OpusArte)/Solti Centenary Concert (ArtHaus/Unitel Classica)/Spira Mirabilis (Ideale Audience/Naxos Blu-rays)


Picture: B- (Voix DVD: C+)     Sound: B/B-/B/B & B-/B/B/B-     Extras: C+/B-/C+/C/B-/B/C     Main Programs: B/B-/B-/C+/B/B+/C+



Here is our latest look at recent stage and classical performance releases…



Though you may have heard the main piece from Bach’s Matthäus - Passion somewhere being that it is so popular, to hear the work in its long 174 minutes complete version is an epic experience, but that is what you get with a big double choir in this 2012 Amsterdam show that is a pretty good version, though I sometimes thought it was not as rich and intense as I would have liked it.


This is not to say the artists are being too laid back either or that they did not have enough passion, but the 1727 piece (conducted here by Ivan Fischer) with the Netherlands Radio Choir and National Children’s Choir is thorough if not outright definitive.  It is not to say all are being leisurely either nor rich enough, but it just misses the mark at times and the result is that it has some drag to it.  Otherwise, this is an excellent show and I would love to try out other versions to compare it to.



If you have not been able to see Christopher Plummer’s fine stage play as the great stage and silent screen actor John Barrymore, then you have a chance to see a revival with Barrymore (2012) now on Blu-ray in a well-directed and shot 84 minutes presentation that shows just how well Plummer can hold his own.  Told in retrospect from Barrymore in his twilight, he reflects on his life and it keeps the life and memory alive of one of the great early actors.


The set is in the style of the time and the period is evoked well enough, it is engaging enough and definitely worth a look.



Anton Bruckner can never seem to get enough respect.  Outside of some audio-only coverage, the only video title of his was covered has been a decent performance of his Symphony No. 7 conducted by Sergiu Celibidache on Blu-ray, but it was upscaled from an older source and you can read more about it at this link:




Now we have Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 conducted by Franz Welser-Most and it is a fine-but-short 74 minutes which might seem too short, but that is the piece and The Cleveland Orchestra does a fine job of delivering this 1888 arrangement of the classic text.  It is as good an introduction to his work as any title we have covered in the last ten years and worth your time.



Even shorter is Francois Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine with Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson in a confined operetta (based on a Jean Cocteau stage play; the female lead sings on/to her telephone for much of the time) so it could be considered a little deconstructionist or at least minimalist.  It is too the point and an interesting work also worth your time, though fans of Cocteau’s films will be particularly interested.



Kenneth MacMillian’s Romeo & Juliet may be with the Royal Opera Housel but it is not an Opera like the Opera version by Charles Gounod we reviewed at this link:




It is not even a stage play version at The Globe in England from Shakespeare’s work like this version:




This time, it is a very richly, extravagantly produced ballet piece conducted by Barry Wordsworth featuring the classic music of Sergey Prokofiev, down to the often-performed March Of The Knights.  First performed in 1965 in this version, I cannot imagine a more lavish production and this runs 158 minutes, but is never boring, never dull and impressive throughout.  One of the best ballets we’ve seen on Blu-ray to date, here’s one not to miss.



I thought that would be the best entry on this list, but was even more stunned when I got to see the Solti Centenary Concert hosted by the widow of the famed Georg Solti, Valerie Solti, who guides us throughout the fine, rich 112 minutes from The Symphony Center in Chicago.  Conducted by Valery Gergiev, she shows up after every major segment and it just gets better and better.  Georg Solti spearheaded The World Orchestra For Peace and fled Europe when the Nazis invaded.  This show is rich in history and a show that just builds and builds, making it a contender for one of the best classical Blu-rays for 2013!



Finally we have Gérald Caillat & Pierre-Martin Juban’s Spira Mirabilis, a short 43 minutes showing us how the title orchestra made up of young musicians form all over Europe perform Schumann Symphony No. 1 “Spring” with a few stops and starts in between.  Some night find this tedious, but it is at least an alternative approach to doing classical music, performing it and showing it, so many may find this more interesting than expected and the bonus material is far more extensive than usual.  That will be a curio for some, invitation for others, but I would only say that for some, they may find this for classical music fans only.  I would treat it as a short subject, but is the kind of different release we like to see.




The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on all Naxos Blu-rays and the 1080p HD presentation on Barrymore are about even with some expected flaws like slight detail issues, but color is decent throughout and only the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the Voix DVD suffers a bit from its trade-down.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on the Voix Blu-ray, Bruckner (wide soundfield), Romeo,(solid recording), Solti (mislabeled as lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 with its PCM 2.0 Stereo alternative tracks; even the audience sounds better than usual here) and DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.0 lossless mix on Passion are the best sonic performers on the list, with Voix only having a couple brief flaws and the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD is a little weaker.  Passion is well recorded with a nice soundfield and recreation of the acoustics of the Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam.  Though some may complain about the absence of a .1 LFE track, it was not as much an issue for me since the recording was so smooth. 


Spira is PCM 2.0 Stereo only and ties with the Voix DVD and Barrymore (it is usually monologue throughout, of course) as the titles with more limited sonic performance.


Extras on all Naxos Blu-rays include a booklet on the program in several languages (Solti actually has two of them and a Making Of featurette) and trailers for other Blu-rays, save Voix and Spira (the Making Of documentary is longer than the performance!)  Romeo has two Making Of featurettes and a Cast Gallery. 


Barrymore only has a Backstage With Barrymore featurette.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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