Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel with
Humperdinck (Art Haus)/Barenboim – Beethoven Piano Concerts 1 – 5/Abbado – Mahler Symph. No. 5/Janacek: Cunning Little Vixens – Davies (Medici
Arts)/Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker: San
Francisco Ballet/Verdi: Otello – Cura/Purcell: Dido & Aeneas – McGregor
(Opus Arte)/Adam: Giselle – Connelly
(TDK)/Puccini: Turandot – Mehta
(Unitel Classica)/(Naxos Blu-rays)
B (B- Hansel & Nutcracker) Sound: B* Extras: C (C+ Turandot, Dido & Nutcracker) Concerts: B
On the three Medici Arts titles included here, you have to start the program, then go to the menu to choose between
the two audio options.
comes to an end, Classical Music leader Naxos
and the family of labels it distributes has issued another wave of Blu-rays
that are all pretty good and offer a few surprises. This time, none of them disappointed and I
really enjoyed how well this group played back.
interesting piece here is Englebert
Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel with Humperdinck (Art Haus) where the one
time romantic singer has pulled off making the classic tale into an opera that
has its moments. In this second Blu-ray
of the work, he appears performing in it and it will come as a shock to those
used to seeing him as a romance singer/icon that sure, he became older. However, with classic this like Release Me and After The Lovin’, it turns out he can pull off more than just a few
hits. You have to see it to believe
it. The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High
Definition image is darker more than usual and the HD just cannot resolve the
darkness as well as one would like, but the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless
7.1 mix is not bad, if limited. A nice
making of piece is one of the extras.
Barenboim – Beethoven Piano
Concerts 1 – 5
Has the same tech aspects, but its DTS-MA is 5.1; see note above about this
Medici Arts release. Still, this is a
solid performance of the classic works and though we don’t see much more than
Daniel Barenboim and company playing them, the fine sound more than makes up
Abbado – Mahler Symph. No. 5 is pretty much produced the same
way as the Daniel Barenboim title, but the sound is PCM 5.1; see note above
about this Medici Arts release. However,
I liked the sound and performance, so this is also a winner.
Janacek: Cunning Little Vixens is a lesser known or discussed
work in these genre circles, but very interesting and easily the most visually
rich of the three Medici Arts titles we received this time around; see note
above about this Medici Arts release.
Dennis Russell Davies pulls off an energetic version of the tale and the
DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix is pretty good throughout.
Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker: San Francisco Ballet manages to be a fine performance
of the very popular stage classic with more energy and less stuffiness than we
are used to seeing with the same material, thanks to a top rate
production. One of the few works in this
review with ballet, this is as good a version as you are likely to see in any
video format. Even its PCM 5.0 mix tends
to be more dynamic than expected. Cast
gallery, illustrated synopsis, nice interviews piece and a featurette on The
1905 World’s Fair that could never be long enough are included, making this my
favorite set of extras on all nine Blu-rays.
Verdi: Otello – Cura is another fine version of
Otello, but with so many out there, it is hard to make one that stands out, but
José Cura makes the difference and out of Barcelona makes this a sometimes
definitive production of the work; not an easy thing to do. Cast gallery, illustrated synopsis and
introduction are also included. The PCM
5.0 sound mix is pretty good too.
Purcell: Dido & Aeneas is directed by Wayne McGregor
from Henry Purcell’s tale of love versus the powers of evil. A British production in Milan, this is one of the more interesting
ballets of modern times I have seen.
With its supernatural bent, I am surprised we have not seen someone
(hope I am not suggesting a bad idea here) license this and gut it out into a
bad horror film, though the romance angle might stop that. Maybe fans of Twilight and New Moon
should see this one, especially as it is sung in English as written. The PCM 5.1 mix is really good and extras
include a cast gallery, illustrated synopsis and McGregor interview.
Adam: Giselle – Connelly (TDK) is Adolph Adam’s ballet
presented by Paul Connelly in Paris is inspired by a medieval legend from the
Rhine valley, turned into a more complex work and though well-known in its
genre circle, is under-seen and less known than what we might consider more
popular and somewhat less complex ballet works, which is why it is so good a
solid key version is now available on Blu-ray, controversial music and
all. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio)
lossless 7.1 mix is quieter than you might expect at times, but has its
moments. A pleasant surprise all around.
Puccini: Turandot – Mehta has the fine conductor Zubin
Mehta teaming up with film director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) pulling off one of the richer and more effective
performances of the classic we have seen on home video to date. The cast is top rate and the addition of a
Making Of featurette makes this one of the best titles here for extras. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix
is also nicely recorded and offers a decent soundstage.
1080i HD shoots and they can look fine, but like their Rock counterparts, 1080i
only goes so far and usually comes with limits that film and higher HD formats
(2K - 4K, not used for any concerts yet) would be less likely to have, like
slight noise, slight limits in black, white & red or even slight
staircasing, digital noise and slight issues with the interlacing working. All offer 2.0 Stereo versions of their audio
that is not as effective in the same format the multi-channel is offered. I should add that while the audio is better
than what you would find on a DVD, factors like slight compression, soundstage
limits or just a lack of total envelopment held the multi-channel versions back
a bit. They are all still fine
recordings, though, so don’t let that stop you from enjoying them for as well
as they work. As for extras, all have
thick booklets inside the Blu-ray case and some have trailers for other Blu-ray
related Blu-rays, try these links:
Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi
Trittico/Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake
Puccini’s La Boheme
Verdi’s Il Trovatore
Verdi’s La forza del destino
Verdi’s La Traviata