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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Concert > Instrumental > Vocal > Drama > Comedy > Multi-Channel Music > Ujamaa (2018/2L Records Blu-ray + Super Audio CD/SA-CD/SACD Hybrid)

Le Comte Ory (2015/Rossini/Blu-ray + DVD)/Jansons/Yo-Yo Ma: R. Strauss, Dvorak (2016/Belvedere Blu-ray)/Aspects Of America (2018/Pentatone)/Bach: Secular Cantatas, Vol. 10/Masaaki Suzuki (2018/BIS)/Hieronymus Praetorius: Missa In Festo.../Cordes/Janig (2018/CPO)/Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Honeck: Beethoven, R. Strauss (2018/Reference Records)/Stenhammar/Jarvi: Gothenburg Symphony (2018/BIS)/Ujamaa (2018/2L Records Blu-ray; last 6 Super Audio CD/SA-CD/SACD Hybrid releases/all Naxos releases)

Picture: B- + C/B- Sound: B/B- All SACDs: B+ B B- 2L Blu-ray*: B+ B B Extras: C/C SACDs: C- Main Programs: B-/B-/B-/C+/B-/B-/B-/B-

Here's a new group of classical releases in three formats, Blu-ray, DVD and Super Audio CD, the latter of which we have not taken on in the Classical Music genre for a bit. Two of the discs offer sonic surprises and join one of the Blu-rays for the latest of our continuing coverage of multi-channel music....

We start with the first of those few videos, released separately in two formats, Blu-ray and DVD. Hard to believe, but this is the first time we have covered any version of Rossini's Le Comte Ory from 1828 (based on an 1817 work), but this 2015 Malmo Opera performance with Leonardo Ferrando as seducer Count Ory is it. He is trying to seduce a married woman whose husband is about to return from The Crusades and not care about the destruction he could cause, but this comedy decides to have some karmic fun with the happenings (religious issues shadowing things, intended or not) and we finally can see it is action.

Tobias Ringborg conducts what is a long 142-minutes show and though it is a little longer than I would have liked, it looks good, the singing is fine and production had to be this long to do the work in the most well rounded way. The energy is decent, as is the audience, and I would recommend giving it a good look, but just be sure you have the energy because it is still a long one.

Our other video release is even more of an event bringing Mariss Jansons and Yo-Yo Ma together to take on major works by Richard Strauss (Don Quixote) and Antonin Dvorak (Carnival (Overture, Op. 92), Symphony No. 8 (in F Major, Op. 88)) in this 2016 show from the Belvedere label (we've not really encountered them before, but this works fine) on Blu-ray. Anything with Yo-Yo Ma tends to be a cultural event and runs a healthy 111 minutes. In this case, I might have wanted this one to be a bit longer and think the two stars meld together perfectly, their command of the pieces as good as anyone performing them today and maybe more.

Another good live audience and decent recording make this a must-see for serious fans and a preferred choice for those seeking Classical Music on Blu-ray. Is it me, or does Yo-Yo Ma just get better all the time?

Starting on our audio-only hybrid, multi-channel Super Audio Compact Disc releases, we start with Aspects Of America (2018), a collection of five 20th Century composers (Sean Shepherd, Sebastian Currier, Christopher Rouse, Kenji Bunch, Samuel Barber) conducted by Carlos Kalmar with the Oregon Symphony that fills the disc well with music maybe we should hear more of and have not, presented here both sonically and artistically in the best way possible.

Nothing stood out particularly strongly, including one piece over the other, yet the grouping speaks of a moment in music (most composers are from the latter half of the century) that meant a special kind of renewal of instrumental music not connected to film, television, radio drama or the like. Especially in today's overly visually mediated world, the collection gives us a hidden look at music untouched by 'video addition' and that alone makes it worth visiting. Add the fine sonics and you can't go wrong.

Bach: Secular Cantatas, Vol. 10 by Masaaki Suzuki (2018) is the first of our religious-esque entries and is not bad, but the one entry here that did not do much for me despite the excellent recording. Beautiful but repetitive, it is shorter comparatively at 66 minutes, but each of the two tales here have something to show and say (the latter Ich Bin in Mir Vergbugt being political versus the 'festive' nature of the first, Angenehmes Wiederau, Freue Dich in Deinen Auen) challenging works to listen to, even study and understand. I found no false notes or issues with the performances and interpretations, but experts on these would know better than I would.

Since it is sonically as good as about any recording of the works, you cannot go wrong very much if you want to know about the the music and can be confident to start here.

Hieronymus Praetorius' Missa In Festo Sanctissimae Trinitatis is not just religious-esque, but explicitly a Latin Mass from circa 1600! Conducted by Manfred Cordes with Organ Solo (or is that Solo Organ?) by Volker Janig from a 2018 performance. This I usually not my kind of material, yet I found the 70 minutes worked a bit better than the Bach pieces that alluded to spirituality, et al. Still, even I could only take so much of what is here, yet it has more of a pace and smoothness than most such works like this I have actually ever heard. Now you can decide for yourself.

Covered during the days of the horrific Tree of Life murders in the Squirrel Hill section of the famed Steel City, the new Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra recordings of Beethoven and Richard Strauss (2018) take on a new weight, showing the arts in the city alive at their very best, representing the city and the side (never large enough) that loves, embraces and supports the arts. Released by another new label to us, Reference Records, music director Manfred Honeck picks up where past conductors Andre Previn and Loren Maazel left off. William Caballero does horns for Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 1, Op. 11, but the somewhat dark irony here is that the Beethoven piece is Symphony No. 3, Op. 55 'Eroica' that has had some controversy in the past in how it turned up.

Well performed here, 'Eroica' is the record on the turntable at the home of the Bates Motel in Hitchcock's classic Psycho (1960, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and as son as 1960, that actually infuriated Classical Music fans and those of Beethoven, as if the work was causing the psychosis and murder. I highly, extremely doubt Hitchcock, book writer Robert Bloch or the rest of the creative team intended that to be the case, but an essay inside the case by Honeck himself about how it originally was about a romanic hero, maybe Napoleon and maybe not, then how a funeral march was composed by the legendary genius around the same time. [We are NOT saying the real life killer heard any of this, but that it is a now-sad coincidence that might shock some who look at the album's content since the shocking killings.]

The PSO is a point of pride in Pittsburgh for decades (always has been) and will continue to be. Every Pittsburger I told about this to was surprised and almost shocked they were getting any kind of album issued since it is obvious how good they are and more need to know. Now, this might even become a curio release, but it is a solid one and definitely recommended.

Next we have music by Wilhelm Stenhammar (1971 - 1927), another under-heard composer of the 20th Century composer who gets four works here presented by conductor Neeme Jarvi with The Gothenburg Symphony from from 2018. Running 67 minutes, this starts with a Romeo and Juliet suite, then moves onto works with more genera titles that round out a look at career more people again ought to encounter, hear and be aware of. This was not bad at all, once again accompanied by superior audiophile recording quality.

The enclosed booklet has more details, but if your going on a spree to hear composers you may have missed and need to catch up on, add this to your list.

Finally we have Henning Sommerro's Ujamaa (2018) plus The Iceberg, conducted well by Ingar Heine Bergby as the latest entry in the ever-ambitious 2L Records release slate to have the best state-of-the-art new music and recording at the highest definition possible to be a catalog of quality music that you can enjoy as much as you can demo. This time, they have issued a Blu-ray with Super Audio CD/SA-CD/SACD Hybrid disc so you can hear the music with more options than I can remember any other release in home video history offering, but that's 2L for you.

You can read more about the playback quality below, but this is as state-of-the-art as anything 2L has ever issued (recorded in their DXD 24bit/352.8 kHz PCM format, which sometimes has been great, and other times been harsher than expected), this is smooth & interesting throughout and a pleasant sonic experience all around no matter what formats you can play it back in. Cheers tot the label for not quitting or trying to find music we might not hear otherwise.

Now for playback quality. The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on the Blu-rays have the best of the three picture performers here, as most of this material is audio only, both displaying slight motion blur and detail issues, but colorful and fine for what they are. The Ory DVD is anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1, but softer than expected, though both versions of Ory offer really good PCM 2.0 Stereo tracks, but no surround offerings. Jansons has the same tracks, plus a better DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.0 lossless mix that is not bad, but is slightly lacking beyond no subwoofer channel. Otherwise, it is fine.

All six Super Audio CDs offer two variations of the great ultra-high definition audio-only DSD (Direct Stream Digital) in excellent 2.0 Stereo presentations and 5.1 DSD mixes that are all outstanding and the sonically best presentations on the list. I expected some of these to play very well, but all six are pretty impressive, showing us once again never to underestimate the fidelity, detail, depth, warmth and articulation of classical music at this high level. The Pittsburgh disc might have a slight compression feature, but that's more style than an audio flaw from my impression and shares CD-player compatible PCM 2.0 16bit Stereo tracks with the rest of the SACDs here. However, in a first in my experience, it is encoded in the underrated, lost-in--the-shuffle 20-bit HDCD format. You need a decoder for it and a few thousand regular CDs were issued in it, putting 20 bits of sound where only 16 bits would fit. We may have 2.0 PCM Stereo in 24 and even 32 bits now (DSD is one single giant megabit oversampled 2.9 Millions times by comparison!), but it was a revelation in the CD-only days and is a nice touch on that SACD.

*The 2L label has also added an audio-only Blu-ray (what they are known for) with their SACD and we get four audio mixes. First is an impressive Dolby Atmos 11.1 lossless (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mixdown) mix we are now slowly seeing on music Blu-rays, plus a solid DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless and even impressive PCM 2.0 Stereo track worthy of the best on this list. However, the other sonic surprise is the first time on the site we have encountered the home version of the first digital 12-track audio format: Auro 11.1 lossless!

Introduced by George Lucas on his Red Tails production years ago during the end of his years running LucasFilm, it was his last major audio innovation before selling the company, but he proved it could work and now it is the new state-of-the-art sound in movie theaters and home video. Not that all 12-track mixes are great, but they are a new permanent part of the sonic landscape and that can be a good thing. The problem is that hardly any Auro software exists for the home and in the U.S., it has not even really been launched, though it is rolling out overseas. Of the top of my head, the only Auro 11.1 disk out there I know of (though there are likely more by now) is the 4K (non-HDR) foreign edition of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a low-budget monophonic film. The result is that the Auro here played back in DTS by default. We'll revisit this title when we can get to a Auro home theater and as more information comes in, but nice demo disc too!

Extras in all releases are the only extra, a booklet on each respective release with informative text and tech info on each release. I was surprised the videos has no more extras, but that is the case this time around. Hopefully, we get more next time.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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