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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Drama > Documentary > Orchestra > Biography > Ballet > TV Mini-Series > Alceste/Ivor Bolton/Teatro Real (2014/Gluck/EuroArts)/Debussy: Les Preludes 1er Livre/Barenboim (2000/EuroArts)/The Firebird/Kudelka (2003/Stravinsky/EuroArts)/Herbert von Karajan: Beethoven Symphonie

Alceste/Ivor Bolton/Teatro Real (2014/Gluck/EuroArts)/Debussy: Les Preludes 1er Livre/Barenboim (2000/EuroArts)/The Firebird/Kudelka (2003/Stravinsky/EuroArts)/Herbert von Karajan: Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 9/Henri-Georges Clouzot (1966, 1977/Unitel Classica/EuroArts)/La Favorite/Donizetti/Allemundi (2014/Unitel Classica/OpusArte)/Wagner Vs. Verdi: A Documentary In Six Parts (2013 - 2014/Unitel Classica/ArtHaus/Naxos Blu-rays)

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

Here are the latest Classical Blu-ray releases for your consideration...

Christoph Willibald Gluck's Alceste has been issued in a new version from 2014 with Conductor Ivor Bolton and the Teatro Real in Madrid in a long 150 minutes that has its moments, but drags a bit despite some fine singing and staging. This is only the second time we have ever covered a Gluck work, having enjoyed Iphigenie en Aulide (aka Iphigenie en Tauride) in a very engaging Blu-ray release a good bit ago at this link:


This version of the tale of Euripides is ambitiously presented as well, the first time we remarkably ever came across any interpretation of that story, but does not quite justify its length. Still, I kept watching hoping it might pick up, but it at least holds steady in what they are trying to do.

Daniel Barenboim is back yet again, this time with the documentary Debussy: Les Preludes 1er Livre (2000) and hour-long look at the work of Claude Debussy by one of the greatest conductors of all time. I wish it were longer, but this is not bad and I mostly thought what he had to say made sense, explained very clearly and with a true love of the composer. Oddly, the only work we have covered of Debussy is Pelleas et Melisande and the same one from Conductor Frank Welser-Most, including the latest edition at this link:


Then yet another work by an artist we have covered before, Igor Stravinsky. This time we have Choreographer James Kudelka delivering a solid version of the ballet The Firebird (2003) of Russian Folk Tales with Conductor Valery Gergiev and dancers Great Hodgkinson, Alexandar Antonijevic, Rebekah Rimsay and Rex Harrington. It only lasts an hour, but is just fine for what it is and I hope to see more versions to compare eventually.

One of the most pleasant surprises is Herbert von Karajan: Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 9, which includes the great conductor going the two classic pieces in 1966 and 1977 respectively, which he does as well as anyone could. The big twist here is that the 1966 concert (running a half-hour) is directed by the legendary Henri-Georges Clouzot, whose classic feature films includes the original Diabolique and Wages Of Fear (remade by William Friedkin as Sorcerer) picking exceptional shots and angles to capture the orchestra performance on solid black and white film. It contrasts amusingly to the latter color videotaped show which is good, but lacks the form of the Clouzot film.

Now they had made several films together including what is on this Blu-ray for more concert and interviews, including Karajan working with the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin:


They make a terrific pair of important classical film Blu-rays.

Next is Gaetano Donizetti's La Favorite (2014), the most outright spectacular release here featuring the full-blown opera at 184 minutes with a great cast Christian Lacroux costumes, conducted by Antonello Allemundi and directed by Vincent Boussard, deals with multi-national war of the past with a multi-national cast and scope that has the kind of impact you would expect for such an ambitious production where the composer melded several opera styles, et al. The result just justifies its length and is worth discovering this underseen work.

For more Donizetti, try these links...

Don Pasquale


Lucrezia Borgia


Finally we have the TV mini-series Wagner Vs. Verdi: A Documentary In Six Parts (2013 - 2014) looking at the two composers, how they helped define European music for the 20th Century and how they became favorites of two murderous dictators, Hitler and Mussolini. Two episodes take on each giant separately after the first episode, then brings the history, effect, influence and results together throughout. Some may find this a bit long, but I thought it was necessary, especially due the the infamy of the two legends, the negative effects they had and just how significant they have been, are and will be, for better and worse.

Each episode has a different director, yet they flow together nicely and are definitely worth your time.

The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on most of the Blu-rays have motion blur and show the age of their tapings, plus in the case of documentaries, age of their vintage footage, save Karajan which has its filmed and analog videotaped 1.33 X 1 footage upscaled for 1080i (why were the 35mm black and white Clouzot films not restored and transferred in and for HD?) and the 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Favorite, barely the best presentation here with slightly less blur and other issues than the rest of these releases.

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Favorite is well mixed, recorded and presented, easily making it the sonic champion with superior soundfield and fidelity throughout, but also including a lesser PCM 2.0 Stereo track. Alceste and Wagner only include PCM 2.0 Stereo tracks, but tie for second place as the sonic best on the list, but have some serious limits, though the rest of the Blu-rays are also only stuck with that uncompressed two-channel codec and they even sound poorer, really showing their age. Karajan could use some work in particular, actually being PCM 2.0 Mono.

Extras in tall six cases include the usual multi-lingual and partly-illustrated booklets on their respective releases, with Debussy having an 18 minutes-long concert excerpt, but it I in the analog PAL video format and will not play on most U.S. Blu-ray players. Karajan adds the already noted Clouzot interview with the orchestra piece where he talks to a young composer about playing Beethoven and how to do it well and he really knows what he is talking about. Favorite adds 5 frames as a Cast Gallery and an Interviews with the Cast & Crew clip and most of the discs have trailers for other releases from the respective labels.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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