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Category:    Home > Reviews > Instrumental > Political > Classical > Piano > Orchestra > Opera > Ballet > Drama > Politics > Sexual Assaul > Naxos CDs: Leonardo Balada - Sinofonia de Negro: Homage To Martin Luther King (1968, 1991, 2010), Les Galanteries: Mandolin Music From The 18th Century/Artemandoline (2012 - 13) & Biret Solo Edition 7

Naxos CDs: Leonardo Balada - Sinofonia de Negro: Homage To Martin Luther King (1968, 1991, 2010), Les Galanteries: Mandolin Music From The 18th Century/Artemandoline (2012 - 13) & Biret Solo Edition 7/Schumann (2013)/Brahms: The Complete Symphonies/Thielemann (United Classica/C Major Set)/La Sonnambula/Bellini/Ferro (United Classica/EuroArts)/La Bayadere/Minkus/Bolshoi (Bel Air)/Legend Of The Invisible City Of Kitezh/Risky-Korsakov/Albrecht (Opus Arte)/Rape Of Lucretia/Britten/Paul Daniel (Opus Arte/BBC)/Written On The Skin/George Benjamin/Royal Opera House (Opus Arte/Naxos Blu-rays)

Picture: X/X/X/B-/B-/C+/B-/B-/B- Sound: C+/B-/B-/B/B-/B/B/B/B- Extras: C-/C-/C-/B-/C+/C/C+/C+ Main Programs: B-/B-/B-/B/B-/B-/B-/B/B

Here's a diverse new set of recent Classical titles you should know about....

All our releases here are distributed by Naxos, starting with three CDs. Leonardo Balada - Sinofonia de Negro: Homage To Martin Luther King (1968) combines three compositions that may seem contradictory. Serious, introspective and much as recent as anything on the list, the middle piece is from 2010 and makes its debut here. Double Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet & Orchestra is very much in the mode of the other works, but is not based on anything historical is supposed to make us think like the other two included here. The King work was made after he was killed and is a remarkable piece in its ability to capture the conflicts and anger in the after math of what we can safely say was a political assassination. The last four tracks come from his opera Christopher Columbus, which seems like a contradictory thing to include here, but it does make me want to experience the whole opera. An interesting release all around.

Les Galanteries: Mandolin Music From The 18th Century (2012 – 13) is loaded with 24 tracks of 9 composers (plus one listed as anonymous) that gives one a nice sampling and range of such works by the 6-member group Artemandoline that includes vocals in some cases. This is more than most might want or need to hear, but you'll get a great sampling of what the famous instrument inspired at just over 55 minutes (Fibber McKee would be pleased) and it is worth a listen to hear the diversity.

Idil Biret Solo Edition 7: Robert Schumann (2013) is an all-piano presentations of four works by the legendary composer by Biret, who gives us about 80 minutes on one disc. This is the latest entry in one of the more popular, successful classical music album series and you can overdose on piano works here, but it is very through, well rounded and well done. I can understand the success.

Moving on to Blu-rays, Brahms: The Complete Symphonies is our only Blu-ray set and is conducted by Christian Thielemann, who previously showed us equal excellence in his Blu-ray of Beethoven's 7th, 8th & 9th Symphonies at the same time we covered a fine Brahams Blu-ray from Claudio Abbado at this link:


Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 run 118 minutes on the first disc, while Nos. 3 & 4 run only 90 minutes, but like Abbado before him, Thielemann has a smooth, easy grasp of the classics that make watching and hearing him bring them to life always a pleasure to enjoy.

Vincenzo Bellini's La Sonnambula is about a sleepwalker and deals with poverty, class division and isolationism in small place far away in the Swiss Alps. Those expecting possibly a horror and/or zombie tale will instead discover other kinds of horror and irony in this solid opera production from Stuttgart conducted by Gabriele Ferro and a pretty solid cast of singers. Know that this takes a little while to get started up, but the results are not bad, though some of the senses of isolation do not always work. Still, this is decent but long at 156 minutes and you should have some patience while viewing.

Ludwig Minkus' La Bayadere is presented here by no less than The Bolshoi Ballet with choreography by Marius Petipa (they wrote the libretto together) and its great costumes and designs are only outdone by the amazing dancing throughout the 126 minutes that tells the tale of the celebration of what seems to be a happy union of man and woman when things start to slowly go wrong, seem cursed and doom starts to eclipse joy in the face of love. As good as anything here, this work deserves wider exposure.

Risky-Korsakov’s The Legend Of The Invisible City Of Kitezh is another dark opera set in what seems like a near future land where the earth has been ravaged by the abuse of the human race and leaves our protagonists to go to the forrest to try to find any life, salvation and joy that might be left to salvage. As conducted by Marc Albrecht with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, this is very long at 187 minutes (!) and does not always justify its length, but it was one of the last works of its legendary composer and needs the time to realize the work.

Most serious is Benjamin Britten's The Rape Of Lucretia running exactly two hours and boldly dealing with the ugly plight of the title character (Sarah Connolly) and can get rough at times, but thanks to the skills of all involved including the rest of the opera singers, Conductor Paul Daniel, Stage Director David McVicar and the Orchestra of English National Opera. Britten is on of the later opera composing greats and we have been receiving a series of his works on Blu-ray, with this one proving once again he is one of the most important and prolific of creators of works in the art form in recent times. Another mature work, it is highly recommended, but make sure you feel you can deal with the subject matter.

Finally we have George Benjamin's Written On The Skin, who happens to still be alive and well for this Royal Opera House realization of a tale of a rich, powerful man ironically called Protector who asks a poor boy to make a magic book to honor his power, wealth and rule by fear, so the young boy does this and it backfires on him in profound ways. Martin Crimp wrote the text and this work only just debuted in 2012, so it is an event to celebrate and behold because I think this might become some kind of modern classic. Ideas of magic, religion, spirituality and a sense of history as the narrative goes from place to place (post-modern or not) work in its favor and I'll be curious to see the reaction as this work slowly circulates in artistic circles. You should get this disc to be one of the first ones to experience it before that happens so you can have it to yourself for a while.

As the CDs are imageless, the 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on the remaining Blu-ray releases (save Skin in a 2.35 X 1/25fps/1080p presentation) look good often and have some good color, but as UltraHD approaches, with its 2160p performance, detail issues and depth limits will be slowly more noticeable. There are also crushed video black and slight noise moments here and there, but sadly Bayadere has more image breakup and motion blue than I would have liked for such a good-looking production.

As for sound, the PCM 16/44.1 2.0 Stereo on the three CDs are as good as the older format will deliver, but have their sonic limits. Balada however, is a little more strained and the all digital recording and mastering is part of the problem, making it the poorest performer on the list sonically. All the Blu-rays sport lossless DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 mixes (Brahams also has some 5.0) that are all nicely recorded, but Sonnambula and Skin lack the full soundfields and range the rest of the Blu-rays have allowing the better CDs on the list to compete with them overall though I still thought they were more than clear enough to enjoy. PCM 2.0 Stereo tracks are also included on all Blu-rays as an option and for comparison.

Extras in all releases include the usual booklets on their respective works and often sport text in several languages. The Blu-rays have less trailers than usual, Brahms adds a nearly hour-long featurette on the shows, Sonnambula adds trailers, Bayadere adds nothing else, City adds a Cast Gallery & Cast/Crew Interviews section, Lucretia adds Cast gallery and Comments by Director David McVicar and Written adds a Cast Gallery with an Introduction by Creator/Conductor Benjamin.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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