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Category:    Home > Reviews > Ballet > Music > Classical > Documentary > Biography > Politics > Holocaust > Stalinism > Genocide > Italy > M > Caravaggio/Malakhov/Connelly (2008/Naxos/ArtHaus/3Sat Blu-ray w/CD)/Henryk Gorecki: The Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs (1993/ArtHaus)/Napoli/Bournonville (2014/Opus Arte)/Richard Strauss (2014 documentar

Caravaggio/Malakhov/Connelly (2008/Naxos/ArtHaus/3Sat Blu-ray w/CD)/Henryk Gorecki: The Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs (1993/ArtHaus)/Napoli/Bournonville (2014/Opus Arte)/Richard Strauss (2014 documentary/ArtHaus/all Naxos Blu-rays)/The New Rijksmuseum (2014/First Run DVD)

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

Here are some new releases from the world of classical arts and music...

First we have Vladimir Malakhov's Caravaggio (2008) in a Bruno Bigonzetti-choreographed ballet based on the painting and icon of the title character that is not bad throughout, though obviously we don't see arrows with blood, not much violence and outright sexualized nudity, yet the 93-minutes program (stage directed by Andreas Morell) with the Staatsballet Berlin (conducted by Paul Connelly) is a good length to get the story and experiences across without wearing thin.

Listening to the CD of the music score, it works well enough in isolation (dancers can use it to practice movements form the work itself) and is never co-dependent on the image, which is why it makes the images and fine dancing all the more effective. It is a challenging subject and material to take on (constantly re-referenced, as it was in the R.E.M. ''Losing My Religion'' Music Video), but here it is and if interested, it is worth a look and those who look with be impressed.

Tony Palmer is one of the great documentary filmmakers and never gets enough credit for it. Very smart and thorough, most of his work has covered music of all kinds over the years (even helming the Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention's experimental counterculture film 200 Motels (1971) which turned out to be first non-concert theatrical film release shot entirely on videotape) beginning on various anthology TV series and the landmark All You Need Is Love (1977) mini-series and has a solid catalog of vital work like no other. Not even listed on many of his filmographies, Henryk Gorecki: The Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs (1993) tells the incredible, shockingly untold story of an amazing composer in Poland disowned by his own then-militarist government and yet created vital work and survived the oppression.

The title refers to his amazing piece about The Holocaust (written in 1976, but oppressed for years), something he knows about as Auschwitz was only miles away from his hometown where he lived and grew up, a place that has seen all kind of horrors and as 'reward' for standing up to the Nazis, Josef Stalin slapped an environmentally hazardous steel mill in the middle of his town, guaranteeing the snow would never be white again. Of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg of those horrors, like the Polish Government (in pro-USSR, anti-Jewish and all-totalitarian mode) stigmatized him as a non-person and banned his works, yet he was an underground success and celebrated more and more in free Europe until the USSr finally collapsed in 1990.

This runs only 53 minutes, but as is the case with Palmer's works, he gets to the point, has many of them and loads his work with such vital ideas, facts and truths that you just cannot stop watching. A performance of the work is included and all that makes this one of the top music Blu-ray releases of the year!

For more of Palmer's work, try these links...

All My Loving on The Beatles on DVD


Fairport Convention/Matthew's Southern Comfort DVD


Space Movie (1980) DVD


Our other ballet this time out is August Bournonville's Napoli (2014) celebrating Italy and resets the 1842 romance in the 1950s very effectively (iconography, clothes and more) with an exceptionally good set that has the flavor of the period, great dancing and it all builds to a conclusion that has more payoff than most ballets we've seen of late. Graham Bond conducts the Det Kongelige Kapel and Sorella Englund & Nikolaj Hubbe adapt Bournonville's original moves well. And yes, Federico Fellini's work is referenced, but so is a broader sense of Italian Neorealism without overdoing it visually or getting sidetracked. Italy was still rebuilding by this time and this work does not forget that.

Thus, this is interesting and worth your time.

The new Blu-ray on Richard Strauss has as its main program a 2014 documentary Und Seine Heldinnen from Director Thomas von Steinaecker, but also offers Skizze Eines Libenes, co-directed by Marieke Schroeder & Barbara Wunderlich from the same year. But offer deep biographical information, rare interviews, new interviews, facts and rare footage of the man himself, one of the most important music composers of all time... and certainly one of the most successful and popular.

For classical fans, this is nothing short of an event and for music and even film fans, a must see set of films that both offer much for only running 52 minutes each. Add the bonus music and this is a reference quality release on the master composer that is one of the nice surprises of the year.

Museums are sometimes considered boring to go to and some are better than others, but all of them are not easy to put together. They also cost serious work and money. Oeke Hoogendijk's The New Rijksmuseum (2014) spends over two hours showing just how hard this is, from resources, to design, to availability of items, to the constant support that is needed to bring one to life. In this case, the 2003 restoration of an Amsterdam museum that will feature works by masters like Vermeer and Rembrandt, so it has to be taken seriously, politics have to be dealt with and the utmost care has to be taken with so many irreplaceable objects.

This might not be for everyone and will be long for some (the time is spent well enough, but what we see, for better or worse, is not always narrated), but others will likely love this long-often untouched look at the revival of a great place for learning, seeing and experiencing some of the rarest treasures in life.

The sources for each release are varied and presented in a wider range of ways that expected, so we get Caravaggio in a decent, colorful 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image has some motion blur at times, but is as good as any entry here as is Napoli with similar blurring issues at times. I liked its color reproduction enough too. Gorecki and Strauss are offered in 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers can show the age of the materials used since we get our share of not-always restored vintage footage, but Gorecki does not fare as well since it is a 1.33 X 1 upscale in the 16 X 9 frame all the way. Yet, it is as watchable as anything here due to content.

That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Rijismuseum stable enough to match Gorecki and not bad throughout. It would likely benefit from a Blu-ray version, especially with all the art featured.

As for sound, Caravaggio is easily the sonic winner here with a well-recorded DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mix that is that much better than the also well recorded, consistent DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.0 lossless mix on Napoli that itself has a nice, consistent soundfield, so both are sonic winners just outperforming their image counterparts. Gorecki and Strauss are offered with PCM 2.0 Stereo that is not bad, but Gorecki tends to be flatter throughout being a totally older program, so the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on the Rijismuseum DVD (an all new recording) can compete.

Extras for each Blu-ray include booklets on the respective releases (though the Strauss booklet is only in German!), while Caravaggio adds a Making Of featurette & a CD of the music score already noted and Strauss bonus music short films. Rijismuseum and some of those Blu-rays only add Trailers.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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