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Category:    Home > Reviews > Concert > Opera > Classical Music > Operetta > Ballet > Joaquin Achucarro – Brahms Piano Concerto No.2/Davis (Blu-ray) + English-language Operas (Merry Widow/Franz Lehar Blu-ray & Sophie’s Choice/Maw DVD) + 3 Verdi Blu-rays: + La Traviata/Maazel + Falstaff

Joaquin Achucarro – Brahms Piano Concerto No.2/Davis (Blu-ray) + English-language Operas (Merry Widow/Franz Lehar Blu-ray & Sophie’s Choice/Maw DVD) + 3 Verdi Blu-rays: + La Traviata/Maazel + Falstaff/Glyndebourne + Othello/Muti (ArtHaus/Opus Arte/Unitel Classical/C Major/Naxos)


Picture: B-/B/C/B-/C+/B     Sound: B-/B-/B/B+/B/B     Extras: C+ (Choice: C)     Concerts: B (Choice: C+)



Our latest look at Operas from the great labels distributed by Naxos can be broken down into three parts.  First we have the fine pianist Joaquin Achucarro playing the amazing Johannes Brahms, who we have not had enough of a chance to cover.  This 2009 concert has Achucarro rejoining the London Symphony Orchestra 50 years after he originally debuted with them.  With Conductor Colin Davis, they back Achucarro performing Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 83 and the results of this Opus Arte Blu-ray release are not bad at all.  However, the 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image can be a little soft and PCM 5.1 mix (better than the PCM 2.0 Stereo also included) is good, but too much towards the front speakers for my tastes, but purists might prefer it that way.  It is a better concert than you might expect and extras on the disc include four bonus performances by Achucarro of another Brahms piece, plus classics by Chopin, Scriabin and Albeniz, plus a behind the scenes interview featurette.  Very interesting all around.


Then we get two rare English-language operas in two different formats with two different results.  Nicholas Maw has turned the Holocaust drama Sophie’s Choice (from the novel like the film) into an opera and though it is an interesting attempt and idea, it is sincere and ambitious, but the results are uneven and nearly problematic.  Being in English makes it odder, but the singer/actors give it their best, but I believe this one will be for diehard fans of the book or of opera only.  The DTS 5.1 sound mix is excellent, but the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the DVD is weak and if you have a Blu-ray player, you might want to wait for that version instead as this is shot in 1080i High Definition video.  A Cast Gallery, Interview with Conductor Simon Rattle and Illustrated Synopsis are the extras.


Not that I have anything against English-language operas.  I was very impressed with the Franz Lehar operetta The Merry Widow by Lotti Mansouri as her final work as General Director of The San Francisco Opera is a grand production of the tale of Anna Glawari, the title character who becomes caught up in rare options for a woman of the time with her money after her husband’s death and the opportunities thereof.  With its sly comedy and great cast of performers (we even get ballet here), this is my favorite of the six for content simply because it is such an underrated work.


However, the undertaking here goes all out and impresses throughout.  The energy here is met with a certain joy that makes the whole show most impressive and Yvonne Kenny is on target as Anna.  The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image even looks really good with limited motion blur, fine color and more image stability than usual for such a shoot.  However, the one shortcoming is that the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) mix is only 4.0!  That means phantom center channel activity if that and though it is better than the PCM 2.0 Stereo mix, I bet this would have been an audio gem in DTS-MA 7.1!  A Cast Gallery, Impressions by those involved with the show and Illustrated Synopsis are the extras.



Finally, we have three operas by Giuseppe Verdi, one of which we covered before: La Traviata from Conductor Lorin Maazel, Live from La Scala 2007.  Here is the enthusiastic previous review by our fellow critic:





It happens to have the best audio of all six releases with its DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 7.1 mix working very effectively and this reissue is likely happening on its popularity and success.  The covers are nearly the same (you can see the original cover with the previous review) and the disc boasts 70 minutes worth of highlights from 26 other ArtHaus Blu-ray releases, most of which we have covered, so they rightly believe it is a showcase for the catalog and format.


I was not as big a fan of the show, but still think it is excellent, but was disappointed by the 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image, which is a little weak.  Unless the previous Blu-ray looked better, this is a better release.


We also got Verdi’s Falstaff, another key title we have never covered, in an excellent and lively performance by The London Philharmonic Orchestra and The Glyndebourne Chorus.  Conductor Vladimir Jurowski and Stage Director Richard Jones make this really come to life in a presentation that never fails to work.  The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image is sadly the poorest of the five Blu-ray releases, yet I liked the costumes and production design.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix is really good and helps to overcome the picture limits.  The singing is not only great, but the singer/actors have great chemistry.  A Cast Gallery and Illustrated Synopsis are the Blu-ray’s extras.


Unitel Classica/C Major has issued the Riccardo Muti version of Verdi’s Othello and after seeing the tale being badly done, undone and poorly done of late in non-operatic form, is nice to see such a rich, professional, grand production from the 2008 Salzburg Festival.  Aleksandrs Antonenko plays the title character and is joined by a strong cast in a version we could consider reference quality for content.  Fortunately, the 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image (with little motion blur) and DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix are also excellent, but this runs a long 143 minutes.  Fortunately, they have the energy and talent to keep it going.  A 20-minutes-long Talking Othello featurette is also included.


All have informative booklets with essays and production detail.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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