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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Concert > Instrumental > Vocal > Educational > TV > Ballet > Opera > Drama > Comedy > Multi- > Midsummer Night's Gala Grafenegg (2018/Unitel/all Blu-ray)/Henry IV/Shakespeare: Donmar (2016/Opus Arte)/La Fresque: Ballet Preljocaj (2017/both DVD)/Berliner Philharmoniker/Kirill Petrenko: Tchaikovs

Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, V.1 (1958 - 1964/Unitel)/Delibes Coppelia/Bolshoi (2018/BelAir)/Don Giovanni/Mozart: Pizzi (2011/Unitel)/La Passion Selon Marc/Nach Auschwitz: Levinas (2017/BelAir)/Midsummer Night's Gala Grafenegg (2018/Unitel/all Blu-ray)/Henry IV/Shakespeare: Donmar (2016/Opus Arte)/La Fresque: Ballet Preljocaj (2017/both DVD)/Berliner Philharmoniker/Kirill Petrenko: Tchaikovsky Symp No. 6 'Pathetique' (2019)/Himmelborgen/Holte (2019 w/Blu-ray/2L)/LUX: Kleiberg/Smith (2018 w/Blu-ray/all 3 Super Audio CD/all Naxos)

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The latest group of classical music releases includes classics, a stunning new work and one of the great early music series from U.S. TV...

Long before there was PBS or Internet, many had a great vision of TV as a medium to educate everyone and make the world a better place to live (that died in the 1980s), a great TV series that was also an early cultural event arrived and ran from 1958 to 1972. Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, V.1 includes episodes from 1958 to 1964, on Blu-ray in upscaled presentations now reissued by Unitel. In a DigiBook case, The New York Philharmonic was part of every show and each episode asked a major question or offered a theme about music and the arts, all of which are as relevant now as ever.

The shows are fun, highly encourage audience participation and introduce many new, young talents while going through all kinds of classics. Even some name artists show up from singer Marni Nixon to no less than Aaron Copland! Bernstein even gets to West Side Story on one of the shows long before it was finally recognized as a classic.

Three volumes were originally issued and I hope we see the others soon.

Now for the third version of Delibes' Coppelia that we covered following this solid version from the Opus Arte release choreographed by Patrice Bart (separately featuring a Yutaka Sado release):


EuroArts then issued this Eduardo Lao-choreographed version on Blu-ray that took some risks and not all of them worked, but it was ambitious and made for tis own decent Blu-ray release.


This new 2018 version is from no less than The Bolshoi Ballet issued by BelAir choreographed by Sergey Vikharev and is more traditional and is technically the best in playback and as traditional as any, but it is not totally superior to the other two overall by any means. Yes, the dancing is amazing and runs a fine 100 minutes. If anything, all interested should get all three versions and compare, but it is a fine ballet and you can see why people want to recreate it in distinctive ways.

Even more well known is Mozart's Don Giovanni which keeps resurfacing in energetic, big productions starting with this memorable Opus Arte Royal Opera production on Blu-ray that stuck with many of us at the website...


This darker Teatro Real Blu-ray from Madrid more than holds its own...


Then we have this Unitel Blu-ray edition we even covered earlier on DVD that also was popular with fans and really endures...


So here comes a Unitel/C Major release from 2011 and this time coming from the Sferisterio Opera Festival choreographed by Roberto Maria Pizzuto, staged by Pier Luigi Pizzi and conducted by Riccardo Frizza. It looks as good as any of these versions, except maybe that amazing Royal Opera version somehow and sounds as good as any of them, but is direct, traditional and richer like the Bolshoi version. Again, all involved are all in here and you can feel and and tell for all 174 long minutes. Just be prepared to be awake and rested in advance before you take it on.

Our final Blu-ray is a newer opera work by Michael Levinas, rooted in various biblical sources, to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Luther's Reforms. La Passion Selon Marc aka A Passion After Auschwitz (2017) conducted by Marc Kissocsz in memory of the six million Jaws killed in the Holocaust and especially invoking the worst of all the horrific death camps: Auschwitz.

The program runs 87 minutes and the work is not merely religious in a traditional way or in content, but tends to be more abstract and challenging than expected, which is a very good thing, stretching expectation for the better and leaving an artistic mark in very welcome, striking ways that are honest and trying to say something different, important and maybe profound. It is one of the best new works in the field of opera I have heard in a while (limited as my coverage is) and is worth experiencing.

Joseph Calleja, Pretty Yenda and Harriett Krijgh join conductor Yutaka Sado for Midsummer Night's Gala Grafenegg (2018) delivering 14 classics (including two from Leonard Bernstein) in this tight, entertaining 76 minutes program (we're certain the evening was longer) that takes place at the outdoor festival and has a great audience on what turned out to be a really fine weather night. We get these programs occasionally and frankly, they are some of the better ones and I would like to see the companies issue more of them. People seem to be more willing to enjoy the arts when it is outside. Nice to see Austria loosen up somewhat as well.

Hard as it is to believe, we have never covered any version of Shakespeare's Henry IV, but this 2016 version is with an all-female cast by Phyllida Lloyd with Harriett Walter in the lead. From the Donmar Warehouse, they have produced a trilogy of such works by The Bard, they did Julius Caesar in 2012, this two years later and The Tempest in 2016 (look for them elsewhere on this site) so it is an event in a sea of highly competitive revivals of his work and is not pretentious or repetitive. It can be gender-bending, but not necessarily. Add that sexism had men playing female roles on stage without gay context for centuries when women were not allowed on so many stages and you can see why these are so important.

This runs 131 minutes and is worth a look for those interested.

With a title that gives you an idea of what kind of program it is, La Fresque: Ballet Preljocaj (2017) is a somewhat deconstructionist program running only 77 minutes, but offering some ofd the most interesting and challenging in this kind of modern dance. Angelin Perljovaj set this up for 10 dancers based on the Chinese tale also known as ''The Painting On The Wall'' accompanied by Nicolas Godin's music and its a good one worth catching.

Now to our audio-only releases starting with a single hybrid Super Audio CD (it as a CD track for older machines) in a fancy thin hardcover booklet package, Berliner Philharmoniker with Kirill Petrenko: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 'Pathetique' (2019) which we reviewed in a DTS-only CD a very long time ago at this link...


Later, we covered it among many works in this elaborate DVD box set....


This new version is impressive enough (the other writer likes the actual work more than even I do) and it was long overdue for the highest fidelity version possible for us to revisit. The DVD needs reissued on Blu-ray, even if the video needs to be upscaled and the DTS CD version would make an interesting curio today, but thew sonics here are top rate, above the older versions and this is the one I would start with first if I needed to get a prerecorded version of this work. Well done.

We conclude with two double Blu-ray/SA-CD sets form the 2L label, starting with Elisabeth Holte and Kare Nordstoga's Himmelborgen (2019) that is a religious hymns work consisting of 15 tracks, some new by them and others classics including one by Brahms and another by Bach. Not for everyone, but good performances and ultra high fidelity are the true highlights for me and is the reason non-fans would want to hear it. Otherwise, for hymn fans only.

And then to conclude, there is the exceptionally recorded three part LUX (2018) with two compositions by Stale Kleiberg and one by Andrew Smith. We get Biblical references here as well, Catholic in particular, but these are not hymns and are not as obviously what they turn out to be. Again, not my kind of music, but nicely done and audiophiles will be particularly interested in this one.

Now to the playback performances, the 1080i black and white 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image from the Bernstein set can show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the show in the best possible upscale for the old production that was either kinescoped or on old black and white NTSC videotape. It even manages to stay just ahead of the full color, anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image DVDs here, especially Fresque, which is softer than usual. For both DVDs and some of the Bernstein footage, expect analog videotape flaws including video noise, video banding, tape scratching, cross color issues on the DVDs, faded color and tape damage.

The remaining four Blu-rays, the 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on the Gala disc has a little more motion blur and detail issues than I would have liked, but the color is fine. Giovanni has the same kind of presentation, but it is much more stable and consistent, joining the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer as two of the most stable regular Blu-rays we have ever seen issued with classical music.

Then we have sound, which is very diverse and usually very impressive, starting with the LUX set that offers a Super Audio CD with a lossless 5.1 DSD (Direct Stream Digital) that is the sonic highlight of all 10 releases, newly recorded and exceptional in its articulation, fidelity and soundfield all the way and an amazing demo (the DSD 2.0 Stereo is not bad and PCM 2.0 Stereo CD-player-compatible passable), recreated on still impressive Blu-ray in PCM 2.0 192/24 Stereo, DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix (192/24) and 11.1 options in the Dolby Atmos (48kHz) and Auro (96kHz, which will default to DTS-MA for those without Auro decoding in their home theater system) formats that are almost as good, but not quite. Himmelborgen is presented on its two discs the same way, but without as much impact. 2L delivers again with top rate sonics they've been working towards for years.

The DSD (Direct Stream Digital) 5.1 lossless mix on the Harmoniker Super Audio CD is as good as Himmelborgen, but cannot match LUX at its best, but it can be close. Here too, the DSD 2.0 Stereo lossless sound is not bad and PCM 2.0 Stereo CD-player-compatible passable.

As for the DVDs, Henry IV offers PCM 2.0 Stereo and Fresque both lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and somewhat lesser, lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, but both show their age the limits of the recordings, so only expect so much.

That leaves the four new shows on Blu-ray, all offering PCM 2.0 Stereo for older systems and Levinas has that as its only sonic offering unfortunately, but Coppelia is the only one to offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix, while the Giovanni and Gala discs add DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.0 lossless mixes. They all turn out to be excellent recordings that offer impressive playback throughout, so you will not be disappointed unless you really, really want a multi-channel mix on the Levinas release. Otherwise, no problems here, but none are up to the audio-only releases above.

Extras include multi-lingual booklets with essays and informative text in every release except Coppelia for some reason and some of the discs have trailers for other releases. Henry IV adds a director's commentary, cast gallery and several behind-the-scenes shorts, Fresque has its own singular behind-the-scenes short and the Berliner Philharmoniker release offers a 7-day digital concert hall voucher and the chance to download the program in up to 192kHz/24-bit sound.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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