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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Orchestral > Documentary > Biography > Opera > Literature > Anti-Semitism > Ballet > Roc > Conductors: Collector's Edition (1945 - 2003/EuroArts/standard definition Blu-ray)/Merchant Of Venice/Erik Nielsen (2013/Unitel Classica Blu-ray)/Poppea Poppea 3D/Gautier Dance (2013/EuroArts Blu-ray

Conductors: Collector's Edition (1945 - 2003/EuroArts/standard definition Blu-ray)/Merchant Of Venice/Erik Nielsen (2013/Unitel Classica Blu-ray)/Poppea Poppea 3D/Gautier Dance (2013/EuroArts Blu-ray 3D/all Naxos)/Queen: Live At The Rainbow '74 (Eagle SDBlu-ray w/CD)/Wagner's Jews (2013/First Run DVD)

3D Picture: B- Picture: C+/B-/B-/C+/C+ Sound: C+/B-/B-/B (CD: B-)/C+ Extras: C/B-/C/B/C+ Main Programs: B/B-/B-/B-/B-

Here are some new classical releases, with some adding classical aspirations...

Conductors: Collector's Edition (1945 - 2003) does something with Blu-ray that would have been unthinkable when the format began: stuffing the formats high capacity with a bunch of standard definition programs. Now that Blu-ray is mainstream and an Ultra HD 2160p version is due in 2015, we've seen such programs upscaled for Blu-ray (including one on this list) and now, Naxos and EuroArts have dug into their archive and combined 9 programs running over 14 hours (686 minutes/15 hours, 28 minutes) for easier storage and archiving.

A relatively new documentary on Yevgeny Mravinsky is here, but the rest of the programs are concerts that are in so-so shape that might otherwise be passed on for the age of the fidelity of the way they were recorded, yet are vital records of the work of the men who kept the arts alive by delivering amazing orchestra performances of classic pieces by the likes of Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel, Berlioz, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Wagner, Mussorgsky and more.

The other 8 conductors (a few of the programs also have documentary moments) include Herbert von Karajan, Charles Munch, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Carlo Maria Giulini, Otto Klemperer, Eugen Jochum, Igor Markevitch and Leopold Stokowski. HD and Blu-ray fans might find this a bit disheartening, but in this case, I think it is a good idea.

Hard to believe we have never covered any version of any kind of The Merchant Of Venice, but the World Premiere of an English Language opera conducted by Erik Nielsen from the late Andre Tchaikowsky (1935 - 1982) based on one of William Shakespeare's more controversial works (it includes Shylock, a Jewish stereotype) is odd to see in English, with the stereotype, but is consistent and the production design (spinning old safes, gold-plated strong boxes) is always interesting. Too bad the root work is problematic and tainted, but this is worth a look for what does work, produced as part of the Bregenzer Festspiele with the Wiener Symphoniker.

In a post-modern dance interpretation of the last days of Pompeii, the Gautier Dance organization gives us Poppea Poppea 3D (2013), an interesting if too short (at 78 minutes) with the Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart. I like the approach, attitude and free form of the work, even if is not totally successful. It is intelligent, on the dark side and breaks the pretentious monotony you might expect from some ballet. Shumann and Monteverdi are among the composers used for this work and as choreographed by Christian Spuck, is also worth a look.

Queen: Live At The Rainbow '74 has the band in its early prime with Freddie Mercury transforming into the great lead singer/performer we all know know him for being. Running 90 minutes, the 24 songs include a cover of Jailhouse Rock (Mercury's interest in Elvis Presley was always there), Killer Queen, Keep Yourself Alive and other early Queen favorites in what turns out to be an amazing early performance that more than deserved this special upgrade from Eagle's SD Blu-ray series that tries to improve standard definition-captured shows while taking advantage of the extras space for lossless music audio and the music sounds especially good here. The CD (at 74 minutes) is not bad, but not as sharp, clear or as good as the audio on the Blu-ray. It is a nice surprise and not only will Queen fans be thrilled, but anyone who plays this one on a home theater system is in for some big surprises.

Finally we have Hilan Warshaw's Wagner's Jews (2013), a short hour-long documentary that tells of the role Jewish people (including audiences that made his early success possible) in the rise of his music and then nightmare success with Hitler and the Nazis. The programs opens with the unthinkable, a Wagner concert in Tel Aviv, Israel. Holocaust survivors stop it, but in parts of this program (including the extras), there is this problematic argument that it is and should be fine with play Wagner music in Israel despite its vital role in exterminating world jewry in sometimes tepid, shallow and even condescending ways. Talk about the past being forgotten and repeating itself.

Put that one on the very, very bad ideas list, though addressing it would take a separate essay. For the history and questions asked, this is still a program worth a look. However, Director Warshaw in the extras suggests by not knowing if we should play Wagner music in israel (among other places when you think about it) that we are still playing some game of Wagner's. I find that dead wrong, insulting and noted how the crowd's reaction was cut off quickly in that clip's presentation. Hmmm.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 MVC-encoded 3-D - Full Resolution digital High Definition image on Poppea can work, but has at least some ghosting and alignment issues, is not the most colorful presentation and part of it is simply that the 3D releases we have seen has run into trouble with people dancing. This one a little more so, but I like the look here though the 3D covers up some flaws of the also-good (if not great) 2D version on the same disc. As a result, the 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Venice can more than compete despite its detail issues and motion blur here and there. It is the most colorful entry on the list and shows off its stage production values when it can, but neither offer classic HD presentations.

Queen has upscaled an old analog PAL videotaping of 625 lines of analog progressive video to 1080i HD in a 1.33 X ΒΌ X 3 framing centered and pillarboxed in the 1.78 X 1 frame. Though some flaws can obviously be seen, there is limited noise or artifacts versus what it could have been. The same cannot be said for 8 of the nine shows on the Conductors Blu-ray, presented at 1.33 X 1 with most cases being analog black and white videotape, a few on color videotape and the rest on film, save the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the BBC documentary on the life of Mravinsky. That has a mix of every format.

That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Jews looking as good as any standard definition material here.

In the sound department, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) or 5.1 lossless mix on the Queen SD Blu-ray is the sonic winner here, delivering the true sonic range and character of a great music recording, but then surprising with even more dimension and depth than expected. Poppea has the same kind of mix, but it is quieter, less dynamic and limited by the nature of the show. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.0 lossless mix on Venice can ties for second place with Poppea for having a good recording, but not wildly impressive and the soundfield is good, but not great.

The Conductors offers PCM 2.0 Mono at best and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono at worst, all showing the age of their respective releases. The Mravinsky program may have some simple stereo at times, but it is limited overall. Jews has both a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, but the 5.1 is a little better.

Extras with all releases save Jews include illustrated booklets on the respective releases, with Venice adding a 50-minutes-long Making Of documentary, Poppea adding 5 minutes Behind The Scenes, Queen adding the CD version & 4 tracks from a filmed performance the same year at the same venue, but different night that has mostly been lost and Jews offers a brief essays in its paperboard case, while the DVD adds two musical performances (Joseph Rubinstein's Parsifal & Death In Venice), a long Filmmaker Interview and Extended Interviews with Dina Porat, Zubin Mehta and Yossi Beilin.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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