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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Concert > Opera > Drama > Melodrama > Instrumental > Literature > Orchestral > Fantasy > W > Norwegian National Ballet Ibsen: Ghosts and Hedda Gabler (both 2017/BelAir*)/Mozart: Die Zauberflote/Magic Flute/Brandauer/UNESCO Beethoven Symphony No. 9 for Peace (both 2018/Unitel/*all Blu-ray/all

Donizetti: Enrico di Borgogna/Paoli (2018/Dynamic*)/Ekstasis (2019 w/CD*)/Mendelssohn Piano & Cello Works.../Iniguez (2019/Alba/Hybrid Super Audio CD/SACD/SA-CD w/CD layer)/Norwegian National Ballet Ibsen: Ghosts and Hedda Gabler (both 2017/BelAir*)/Mozart: Die Zauberflote/Magic Flute/Brandauer/UNESCO Beethoven Symphony No. 9 for Peace (both 2018/Unitel/*all Blu-ray/all Naxos)

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

This new set of classical releases includes some nice surprises...

We start with a composer whose work we have not had enough of on this site, Gaetano Donizetti. Enrico di Borgogna (2018) is a music melodrama with Alessandro De Marchi conducting and Silvia Paolo directing. A long 160 minutes, it is very thorough, moves well enough and has some fine sets with amazing vocals The tale of a shepherd who may or may not be heir to a royal throne has its many twists and complications just for starters, but then a surprising death has him trying to get that throne, only to find more twists and surprises.

I'm being purposely vague so I both do not ruin anything or give away anything that might follow by predictability or some coincidence, depending on what you would think of the final plot. However, the opera singers really deliver and anything that might be hard to suspend disbelief about is moved over by their talents, so those interested and can think they can handle the length of the program should check into it.

Ekstasis (2019, with Kaija Saariaho and Jean-Baptiste Barriere) is an experimental video presentation with classical music that is abstract and often dissonant, et al, in its arrangement and presentation, but the makers attempt to match it with images (often of the artists performing) that are blurred, distorted, mixed-up, trippy and different than what you would see in a music video. Intended or not, they also look like experimental video of the 1970s when people were just starting to figure out what they were doing with the then-young format as analog just found full color.

The video can be repetitive and that's fine if you like it, but the problem is it just did not stay with me or make any major impacts or points, except to separate itself from a slew and glut of very bad digital video we are (and can further be if we wish) bombarded with that is worse. The music is not bad and has a consistently isolated feel, but that too only goes so far. This is at least ambitious and worth a look if you are interested.

We have one Super Audio CD this time, Felix Mendelssohn Piano & Cello Works on period instruments (2019) as performed by Guadalupe Lopez Iniguez on cello and Olga Andryushchenko on piano. The six pieces are Sonata in D Minor, Op. 58, No. 2, variations on D Major, Op. 17, Albumblatt (Assai Tranquilo) in B Minor, Sonata in B Major, Op. 45, No. 1 and Lied Ohne Worte (Andante) in D Major, Op. 109. It is a set that is smooth, very well played and fits together well.

Since this is meant to be older music that sounds as intended from the time, it is not going to be bombastic and overly loud, so expect a clean, smooth, pleasant performance that will impress purists and traditionalists of the best kind. That also means the 5.0 mix is not going to be wildly engaging the surrounds and though the mixers could have gone overboard and/or became creative, they decided not to here and skip the gimmickry that haunted many an early multi-channel music release (think many early discs in the now-virtually gone DVD-Audio format).

Thus, those who like this approach will want to try this disc out and it is a hybrid, so it has a CD layer for those who do not have SA-CD.

Next up are two ballets that not only define the modern (or post-modern?) approach, but implement it without seeming disconnected or experimental on the side. The Norwegian National Ballet Ibsen: Ghosts and Hedda Gabler (both 2017) are two such programs that are well thought out, have plenty of energy and are performed very effectively. Ghosts (aka Les Revenants or Gengangere, running only 74 minutes) is pretty good and interesting if lacking a bit something and Hedda Gabler (a longer, healthier 99 minutes) are both created and directed by Marit Moum Aune, with music by Nils Petter Molvaer (Ghosts is choreographed by Cina Espejord, Hedda Gabler by Christopher Kettner with group choreography by Kaloyan Boyadjiev) are still very much in the same vein despite different choreographers for each show.

Unfortunately, playback is an issue visually (is it the shoot or a compression issue on each disc? More info on this below) but it is still a very entertaining set of releases and some of the best ballet I've seen in a while, so try out at least one of them if interested.

Now for a new version of Mozart's Die Zauberflote (aka The Magic Flute, 2018) that is still very popular and often performed. I was never the biggest fan of the mid-1970s Ingmar Bergman TV special version, but I did find this early HD release effective...


This new version is at least as good and has one thing going for it that no previous version has, the reader of the book is played to perfection by none other than the great, internationally known actor Klaus Maria Brandauer (Out Of Africa, the James Bond film Never Say Never Again) and he is so good, dead-on and perfect as the host that he makes this one of the greatest visual versions of the classic that has ever been recorded and probably ever will.

With his own special charm, used so well to be bad, but also to be likable, he is nothing but appealing as an elder (though not looking that old!!!) and wise reader who should not be impressed by anything at this point in life, but still is filled with the wonderment he shares with the children throughout this solid 70 minutes. He was always a bit underappreciated and proves here once again why and why he should never be underestimated.

If you have to see any version of Magic Flute, you should now start with this one.

We conclude with the UNESCO Beethoven Symphony No. 9 for Peace (2018) is in D Minor, Op. 125 ''Choral'' features singers Erin Wall (soprano), Annika Schlicht (mezzo-soprano), Attilio Glaser (tenor) and Rene Pape (bass) in this grand goodwill gesture show that celebrates 100 tears since the end of the First World War and after some key introductions, the show goes on. This runs 70 minutes total and is a very good performance of the all-time classical classic.

Cheers to the great atmosphere, audience and Donald Runnicles conducting with well-paced flow that makes this a true pleasure to enjoy. WWI is too often forgotten and that is sadly on the increase. Events like this help reverse that problem.

All six video programs are presented in 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image and have some good color, but all also have some motion blur and detail issues here and there. Ekstasis is very stylized, so you can expect more from it, but the two Ibsen ballets have the most blur sadly, which is a shame because the performances are so good. Why, I don't know, but it gets in the way of enjoying the shows.

All the Blu-rays offer PCM 2.0 Stereo (most discs default to that, so hit your audio button if you want the second option) and better, clearer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes (the Mozart and UNESCO discs offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.0 lossless mixes) and they all have fine soundfields for the most part, with Enrico and UNESCO being the best sonically here. Ekstasis is a bit weak and has fidelity issues, but its PCM 2.0 16/44.1 Stereo CD is surprisingly harsh and shrill, so unless that is some kind of defect, it is one of the poorest classical discs we've encountered in years.

I was also slightly disappointed with the Mendelssohn Super Audio CD, with its DSD (Direct Stream Digital 5.0 lossless sound nice and smooth, but not outstanding, extending to its still decent DSD 2.0 Stereo lossless mix. The CD-compatible PCM 2.0 16/44.1 Stereo track is weaker and weakest of all, but at least it is not shrill and problematic.

Extras in all seven releases include usually illustrated booklets on the separate releases of the programs with their usual information and are often multi-lingual. Donizetti has some behind the scenes piece, Ekstasis a few on how the unusual program was made, Gabler a 52-minutes long documentary on how it was made and UNESCO has a 12-minutes piece on how and why this special concert was put together.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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