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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Drama > History > Royalty > Romance > Comedy > Piano > Ballet > Sunwook Kim: Beethoven The Last Three Sonatas (2021/Accentus)/Romeo and Juliet/Prokofiev/Sorokin (2019/Opus Arte/all Naxos Blu-rays)

Andrea Chenier/Girodano/Chailly (2017/C Major)/Ariodante/Handel/Loy (2017/Unitel)/Don Giovanni/Mozart/Harnoncourt (2014/Unitel)/Falstaff/Verdi/Barenboim (2018/C Major)/Sunwook Kim: Beethoven The Last Three Sonatas (2021/Accentus)/Romeo and Juliet/Prokofiev/Sorokin (2019/Opus Arte/all Naxos Blu-rays)

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

Now for our latest set of classical releases, which are interesting as usual...

We start with Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chenier (2017) is about a poet (Yusif Eyvazov) who is a poet and finds himself in some unexpectedly problematic positions during the French Revolution, not fitting into the politics of the time and the Teatro alla Scala production delivers a fine performance at 128 minutes that gets to the point and keep sup the tension in showing the results.

A nice addition to tales of that period, it is one of the best programs here, thanks to a great supporting cast, conducted by the amazing Richard Chailly and including ballet that really fills out the presentation. It is fair to say this is an underrated work that deserves a wider audience and this version will absolutely help that cause.

Not seen much, Handel's Ariodante (2017) conducted by Gianlica Capuano and directed on the stage by Christof Loy, twists sexual identities as the King of Scotland's daughter Ginevra (Kathryn Lewek) falls for the title character, thinking 'him' to be male, but instead (played well by Cecilia Bartoli) The reason for this is about politics, power and hate, so you can imagine this will all get complicated quickly in its long 216 minutes.

Not that I could sit through it again, I have to say that despite some minor issues, I cannot imagine this being much better and that the makers (including all the actors) did this as well as expected and is a pretty definitive take on the narrative and all of its issues. It might not be for everyone (starting with all those hours to watch it) and some will avoid it for reasons of discomfort, but 5that does not stop it from being as good as it is.

Next up is a new Don Giovanni from 2014 that has Nikolas Harnoncourt conducing at the Theater an der Wien with the Arnold Schoenberg Chor as the second of three Mozart classics he did at the time as a trilogy. It is well done and worth of the previous editions we have covered to date, but it runs 184 minutes and that is a bit long.

However, the cast of opera singers/actors led by Andre Schuen in the title role helps keep it interesting, though it can be a bit more basic at times than one might like for such a long version of the work, but if you like the tone, you might like it more than I did. The way the music is delivered also helps keep it going, so it is worth a look for those interested and also in conjunction with other versions we have covered before.

Next is a interesting version of Verdi's Falstaff from 2018 with Daniel Barenboim at the conductor's stand, with the title character (Michael Volle) looking like a strange combination of Neil Young and Van Morrison, but it is not a work all filled with contemporary touches. Made at the Staatsoper Unter Den Linden, it also runs very long at 142 minutes and did not always justify its length. However, it is not bad and we have rarely seen this one and the cast is giving it all they can.

The dancing choreographed by Raffaella Giordano also helps keep the pace lively, but not always enough to make it flow like any work this long ought to. However, again, you might want to see it if you are interested, but be sure you are in the mood for it.

In our one live performer music presentation entry, Sunwook Kim: Beethoven The Last Three Sonatas (2021) has the impressive pianist perform the title work, including No. 30 in E Major Opus 109, No. 31 in A-flat Major Opus 110 and No. 32 in C Minor Opus 111. Running a smooth 74 minutes, the length of a CD (or SA-CD). This belongs on the same shelf with the many Lang Lang Blu-rays we have encountered over the years and is very impressive throughout.

Its not easy to perform such a work and without problems or flaws, but he knows and loves this work and it shows, which is why this disc makes it compelling viewing and makes the man one of the best musicians in his class around. This was a release I thought would be good, but I was even a little more impressed than expected and hope Kim's that only grows from here. This is a great argument for that.

Lastly, after so many versions (plus we expect more to come) of Romeo and Juliet with Prokofiev music, but this time, it is a decent ballet from 2019. Conducted nicely by Pavel Sorokin, it runs a reasonable 137 minutes, but again, I was not always engrossed, though this is based on the choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, but I though the results were more hit than miss, yet a little more miss than I would have liked. Maybe it is the characters I have seen too much, but the Royal Opera House is still top rate and the lead performances by Matthew Ball and Yasmine Naghdi are not bad.

The story is as popular as ever, so this will have more immediate audience than most ballets out there, so it is not a bad place for new potential fans to start.

Now for playback performance. All six discs are in 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition presentations and all have some motion blur, but Sunwook is the most stable and clear, whether it is from little camera movement or it being the most recent production, though color is fine across the board. Ariodante and Falstaff are both originally 4K productions, so we'll have to see how much better they can look if they get 4K disc releases.

All discs also offer two soundtracks: DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 and PCM 2.0 Stereo lossless mixes, but all sound a little better in the 5.1 versions and are all sonically fine, but Falstaff is a bit off in its two mixes for some reason.

Extras in all cases include multi-lingual booklets with tech and summary information, while Giovanni adds a 52 minutes long documentary looking at the conductor and production, Romeo adds a Cast Gallery, and three Making Of featurettes ands the rest have trailers for other classical releases.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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