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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Instrumental > Vocal > Traditional > Holiday > Norway > Drama > Literature > Opera > Docum > Concurrence/Bjarnason/Iso Project Vol. 2 (Blu-ray/CD set*)/Fryd: Cantus (Blu-ray/Super Audio CD/SACD/SA-CD set/*both 2019/2L)/Hamlet/Thomas (2018**)/Lucas Debargue To Music (2017/Bel Air**)/Saint Saen

Concurrence/Bjarnason/Iso Project Vol. 2 (Blu-ray/CD set*)/Fryd: Cantus (Blu-ray/Super Audio CD/SACD/SA-CD set/*both 2019/2L)/Hamlet/Thomas (2018**)/Lucas Debargue To Music (2017/Bel Air**)/Saint Saens: The Carnival Of Animals.../Alsop (2019**)/Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin/Bolshoi (2008/BelAir/**all Blu-rays/all Naxos)

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

We close out a year of classical releases with more onstage classics and some new music in higher fidelity presentations.

The first of our two all-audio releases is Concurrence by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra with Daniel Bjarnason conducting the four tracks that run about an hour. This is also dubbed the Iso Project Vol. 2 (2019, we missed the first volume) that re-records key classical pieces by Icelandic composers so they can be heard more thoroughly and fully than ever before. All worth hearing, the tracks include Metacosmos (Anna Thorvaldsdottir), Haukur Tomasson's Piano Concerto No. 2, Oceans (Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdorrit) and Quake (Pall Ragnar Palsson) continue the theme of these 2L Records sets of music that is especially befitting multi-channel music and now, immersive music that is just starting to surface.

I liked this set, though nothing particularly stuck with me, though I bought what I heard and think the makers have succeeded in creating a strong record of the music as intended and reflecting the culture as intended. It also makes for a solid sonic demo, but the music is fine and worth hearing once, even if you are not necessarily, initially interested. This was recorded over two years and never sounds choppy or lopsided.

Fryd: Cantus (2019) is a new set (Blu-ray with Super Audio CD) that is about Christmas in Norway, alluding to a mother, including Jesus' mother, while the title of this release translates to joy, so this 14-track collection by Cantus, whose work you may have heard if you saw either of the first two CGI Disney Frozen films or by chance at a holiday event. Morten Lindberg recorded this multi-channel album with some fine singers and musicians, co-executive produced by conductor Tove Ramlo-Ystad with Lindberg.

If you like holiday music and want something new, fresh and different, but not untraditional, this is a set you'll probably want, but if you are like me and think there is too much holiday music, you will only want to hear so much of it. It is better than the many phony pieces of holiday (esp. Christmas) music (and bad TV movies for that matter) that ring fake, phony, flat, desperate and just plain awful, but it also has fidelity and sonics far above almost anything in the field.

Of course, you might want your holiday music to sound old and classic, but that does not mean it has to sound worn out or limited sonically. The few better, newer Christmas movies (Scrooged, CGI Grinch remake, Jim Carrey Grinch, Arthur Christmas) sound fine and some older classics (White Christmas, It's A Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas) have received premium Blu-ray and even 4K releases, so the field's best is getting treated correctly, but we could use more in the way of audio-only releases.

When this and A Charlie Brown Christmas (which received a Super Audio CD release a few years ago) are two of the hardly any holiday music releases in a format beyond vinyl or CD, that is a problem. Though some songs are hits on their own (Elton John's Step Into Christmas, McCartney's Wonderful Christmas Time) that deserve such special treatment, other soundtracks, albums by major artists (think even all those Motown Christmas recordings) and entire albums by a single artist are not being treated in such deluxe terms.

That's a shame considering how big the market is for this music, which might make Fryd a landmark of some kind. Those really interested will want to check into it.

Derived from the original Shakespeare, this Ambrose Thomas version of Hamlet (2018) into an opera with Michel Carre and Jules Barbier is the latest of so many variations of the classic we have covered over the years and very long at 171 minutes. This version with Stephane Degout in the title role and a strong supporting cast conducted by Louis Langree leaves little untouched, but is a very long, dark production that many will not get through.

However, that is what it takes to present this Opera Comique stage production out of France that is ambitious and serious. This also includes the 'original ending' and that makes it a key Hamlet release. Just know you might want to be wide awake before taking it on, should you choose to do so.

Martin Mirabel's Lucas Debargue To Music (2017) is a biopic documentary about the pianist of the title having a rough time of it as a performer when we join him, his first time starting to record his work and not always making the connection to the music and having satisfaction about it in the 111 minutes we get here.

You might think just performing and playing piano would be a do or don't proposition, but to do it for a living, or in front of thousands of people is not so easy, especially if it is a personal thing for you. What do you want to share with others, if anything, about your passion and love of the art and music? Turns out the director knew Debargue for a while before they started making this, but I found the overall result a little uneven and choppy. I think Debargue needed to be asked a few key questions as this moved along and just filming what was happening on a sort of auto pilot did not serve the final cut here well enough. Still, it is worth a look for those interested.

Actually a show with many different works, Saint Saens: The Carnival Of Animals... (2019) offers four works for younger audiences from the Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Albeburgh, Suffolk, U.K., done elaborately and nicely. This runs 99 minutes and also features Ravel's Mother Goose, Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra by the Britten-Pears Orchestra. In the U.S., this is the kind of think you used to see more often a few decades ago, especially on public television stations, but has receded and sadly is not being made as available to all children (versus those whose families have money and education, et al) as it should be.

I liked the energy and look of these shows and was glad to not only see it at all, but in high definition with top rate audio quality. It goes great with the Leonard Bernstein TV series Blu-ray set we covered a few months ago aimed at children from early TV on this site and it would be nice if this were the start of a new trend. This is as fine as any release in this set of releases.

Finally we have a new version of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (2008) by no less than the Bolshoi players at the Paris Opera, based on the Pushkin novel, with Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role and conducted by Alexander Vedernikov running a long 150 minutes. As good as these singer/actors are and as authentic as this can feel, I thought it was a little too long and maybe needed a bit more energy. For as old as it is, it holds up well.

Director Dmitri Tcherniakov even directs this one well, but it still somehow misses the mark, yet that is the very reason it deserves this release (an upgrade, we'll hypothesize) because it is that important a work, will continue to be and have more versions down the line. It is definitely ambitious, but again, be awake when taking it on.

Now for playback quality. The four Blu-rays offer 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer that all have good color and play well, but Lucas just has motion blur too often that cannot be ignored. It and Carnival only offer PCM 2.0 Stereo sound as well, but it is not bad at all, while the other two Blu-rays also add better DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes. However, Hamlet is not as consistent as expected and lacks a good soundfield.

Fryd is the only release here with a Super Audio CD and offers DSD (Direct Stream Digital) sound in both 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo versions, with the 5.1 most impressive and the CD PCM 2.0 Stereo 16/44.1 layer passable at best. Concurrence offers only a regular CD with PCM 2.0 Stereo that is fine, but one misses the SA-CD/DSD layers 2L has been so good about adding to all such releases.

On the other hand, both releases have Blu-rays with four soundtrack options at 24bits,

Dolby Atmos 11.1 (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 for older systems) 48kHz 11.1, PCM 2.0 192kHz Stereo, DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 192 kHz and a format not available much in the U.S. (it will play in DTS-MA on most receivers), Auro 3D 96kHz, all lossless. The only difference is that Fryd offers the Auro in a 11.1 (7.1.4) mix and Concurrence has it in 9.1 despite more tracks on its Atmos mix.

The multi-channel versions all sound fine and are the best ways to hear the music, especially in the case of Concurrence where there is no SA-CD. The other difference is that while both also offer mShuttle MP3 versions of the album, Fryd is still offering the additional option of the very new MQA format (which we still intend to look into and try out at some point) while Concurrence replaces that option with more common FLAC files.

Extras in all six cases include booklets on each release, while Debargue adds two more music performance clips (Improvisation on Duke Ellington's Caravan and and excerpt of Nikolay Medtner's Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5) and Onegin adds the Onegin at the Palais Garnier behind the scenes featurette.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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