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Positive Feedback ISSUE 61
may/june 2012


The Future Is Here - Audio Still Rules Blu-ray
by Karl Lozier


Blu-ray recordings may be video, audio or most commonly video plus audio. If the video is a distraction turn it off though I would suggest watching the video at least once; at times it can be interesting or entertaining. Naxos is again following up with more high definition (Blu-ray) audio only releases. For many listeners that will be a distinct improvement in audio quality if the HDMI digital output signal is used instead of the analog. That one cable carries everything including stereo or multi-channel audio in addition to the very high quality Blu-ray video signal. Greater clarity and a smoother treble will be noticed with many if not most home audio systems. So far this seems to be consistently true. Easier connection needing only one cable is appreciated by all. Sometimes new-fangled things are even easier to use while offering better quality, at least in the audio musical field.

An easy way to get into the beauty and audio and video qualities of Blu-ray releases is by getting a truly good player (a good start is important with many things in this old world). In this issue I will continue to use the moderately priced Oppo BDP-95 player for all the Blu-ray reviews, an over performing universal player; other players may be used for SACD recordings. Next item needed would be a very decent AV receiver such as by Onkyo, Integra, Denon and others that have multiple HDMI cable inputs and good digital or digital to analog connections and jump right in. Your newer television sets will have the correct and simple HDMI connections for simplified setup. The AV receiver will let you add surround sound easily. Remember that quality is more important than quantity in the long run. If possible, try to get an AV receiver that has an official manufacturers' list price of$1200 or even a bit more, particularly if you like to listen at fairly loud levels at times and with multichannel connected. If you like "an in the theater" atmosphere or feeling, multichannel will be necessary now or later. In Issue 60, I went into some detail about why I have now chosen the Nola loudspeakers, namely the Boxers (for right and left front channels) and the specifically designed Announcer model for the very important center channel to use for the all important front trio in these and continuing reviews. Yes, you may have heard that all three would ideally be the same. That is not necessarily true; here both models are, the same, in that each uses the same drivers/cones in a different designed cabinet for an even slightly better sounding center channel. As before, a right and left pair of Nola Thunder Bolt II subwoofers complement the front channels. Competitive models are offered by companies such as Paradigm and PSB and others.

Notice the generally favorable brief revues I write each issue? There are logical reasons for that to happen. Changes such as digital and HDMI connections have made pretty darn good audio to be easier for the manufacturers to give us and easier for us to put to use. Same is true for the video portion that we pretty well take for granted here. As you purchase and use some of my suggested performances you may notice that relatively unknown sources and performers are often doing a superb job and why not! Unlike many of the big professional outfits and famous performers they can and possibly do practice for many months on end, repeating the same music or performances. That can be the way for an individual, or group, chorus or orchestra to be discovered by being on these well done Blu-ray recordings! Pay attention, watch and listen to the possible stars of the near future in the comfort of your own listening and viewing room.

Mahler, Symphony No.2 (Resurrection) Plus. Music Is The Language Of The Heart And Soul. (a portrait of mariss jansons). A Film By Robert Neumuller. Orchestra: Royal Concertgebouw. Choir: Netherlands Radio Choir. Conductor: Mariss Jansons

Cmajor Blu-ray 709804

Mahler's first symphony is one of the best first symphonies ever written. However it is not typical of him. This big, bold and sometimes beautiful second symphony definitely is a typical Mahler symphony. It features two female soloists and a choir. This popular composition can also be an example to introduce Mahler's music to newcomers to classical music. Be sure to eventually obtain his atypical and very beautiful fourth symphony also. The performance is a bit stately, solidly performed and should satisfy most music lovers while featuring what could be called a living portrait of Jansons. The orchestral performance is easily described as quite excellent as is the audio quality overall. No obvious faults mar this presentation. As is the norm for almost all video aspects for Blu-rays I have received so far, it is between excellent and outstanding. The film is personal and pleasant and for most, will be watched once. This is easy to recommend for the fine music presented here.

The Little Mermaid. Ballet by John Neumeir. Music by Lera Auerbach. Orchestra: San Francisco Ballet. Conductor: Martin West

The Little Mermaid

Cmajor Blu-ray 708704

This production turned out to be a complete surprise and nothing like I had guessed. It is actually based on a story of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen as interpreted by John Neumeier. The liner notes make mention of dance theater and all along I had been wondering exactly where does ballet end and contemporary dance take over? Themes involved here are the conflicts of love and loss. Also the divergent worlds of underwater serenity and the now typical complex human world are compared as the Mermaid travels through both worlds while searching. I ultimately decided that the Little Mermaid story was trying to do way too much. It was difficult figure out what the surroundings and costumes where trying to portray at times. I found that the often very contemporary music did little to help explain what was going on and often seemed to lack the melodic beauty I look forward to in most ballets. It will not evoke memories of ballets such as Swan Lake. The San Francisco Ballet premiered this ballet on the American continent in 2010.The fine video does at times aid enjoyment of the music though simply not enough for my very personal musical taste. It is recommended to those willing to try something different or even very different. The unusual scoring makes accurate evaluation of audio quality a bit difficult. My apologies for the lack of real assistance here as consistency seemed to be lacking in the story and visual backgrounds.

Glazunov. Raymonda (Ballet in 3Acts). Orchestra: Teatro alla Scala. Conductor: Michail Jurowski. ART HAUS Blu-ray 108 051

Do you like or even love ballets or particularly ballet music. If so you are definitely in luck! Here is a brief review of the best ballet recording to come my way in some months now. I am not or I should say that I was not familiar with Glazunov's Raymonda; I am now and how. It is a choreographic and staging revival. Anything to do with costumes, scenery or video is just fine and not PFO's main interest. The music or musical score is outstanding and very melodic as all good Russian compositions are; a bit more contemporary, if you will, than Tchaikovsky.

The orchestra is simply outstanding here as conducted by Michail Jurowski and subtle touches and details are captured cleanly and clearly letting the high frequency or treble range of the new Nola loudspeakers ( Boxers and Announcer )to show off. Their low distortion extended high frequency range, is beyond what would be expected in their moderate price range. Here music lovers get beautiful visual enjoyment while being treated to outstanding melodic music.

Do not expect to hear (or see) a better performance in the near future as I must award my highest recommendation to this superb release. Same goes for newcomers to classical music; this is easily appreciated.

Carmen. Antonio Gades and Carlos Saura. (Based on Merimee's novella Carmen). Guitarists: Antonio Solera and Cameron de Pitita. Performance: Teatro Real Madrid

Gades/Saura: Carmen

Teatro Real Blu-ray TR97004BD

What is going on here you may logically ask. After enjoying with quite a bit of interest, I am not certain. It is a theater production and at first I thought it was a dance or unusual modern ballet. Evidently that may not be accurate though as it started out I was certain, really certain that I was watching a fairly large group of dancers, mainly not in costume, practicing, often with a quite excellent guitar duo and much of it flamenco style. The music is by many composers including Gades, Solera and as might be expected, Georges Bizet. As Gades could be quoted saying that this theatre and the film version of Carmen are not his first efforts as he had taken part in the original opera, Carmen. If you enjoy dancing heavily influenced by Carmen and embrace excellent duo guitar playing, mainly flamenco, you are in luck here. Audio quality is top quality here though probably not the prime reason for this production. All performers are quite excellent and somehow I enjoyed all of it right up to the end, wherever that might be. I am serious when I say that; I never was sure, as it seemed to end at least three or four times. Perhaps that is due to modern video productions or possibly just as performed. I am unable to assign any degree of recommendation as to this unexpected production with any degree of personal certainty.

Mahler. Symphony No. 8. Orchestra: Gewandhaus Leipzig. Conductor: Riccardo Chailly. ACCENTUS Music Blu-ray ACC10222

Do you particularly like to listen to really large-scale symphonic orchestral music? Also, how do you feel about a male or female vocalist to liven things a bit. Well, here Mahler adds three male vocalists and five females. Why not four of each you might inquire; perhaps the composer simply prefers the sound of women singing though why is an interesting thought. In any event there are large male, female and boy's choruses beyond the usual scope of most symphonic works. In addition the orchestra is augmented to a great degree; I do not remember seeing four harps in a single orchestral setting ever before. The premiere performance conducted by Mahler in Munich had one thousand and three performers, yes (1,003)! It is often called the "Symphony of a Thousand" though not named that by Mahler. Most modern performances are done with a total number of performers closer to five hundred, though it does vary of course. I would guess that this production, from what I could see, approaches that five hundred number. The overall performance is simply quite excellent in all respects. Choral and vocal passages are very numerous here. The audio quality is particularly full, rich and seemingly close- up while revealing a great deal of detail. Many of the Blu-ray discs I have reviewed seem to not reveal the cymbals clearly or fully; that problem is not apparent for the most part here. It is easy to give this huge production a top recommendation and of very possible interest to newcomers to classical music also.

Puccini. Madama Butterfly. Orchestra: E Coro Del Festival Puccini. Conductor: Laurence Gilgore. Recorded At: Festival Puccini, Torre Del Lago Puccini

Madama Butterfly [Blu-ray]

Dynamic SRL Blu-ray 55563

It seems as though it has been a very long time since I last received a Blu-ray recording of the famous Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini. The wait was worth it as the recording is a very excellent release from an unfamiliar, to me, source. The liner notes are particularly well done in a very logical layout. The three operas La Boheme, Tosca and Madama Butterfly are the three that made, and still make Puccini one of the greatest and most popular opera composers ever. Madama Butterfly adds a bit more uniqueness. It contains what might be the most popular operatic aria ever written and certainly is at least the most popular female (soprano) aria ever in the history of opera. Often referred to as "Un bel di" more correctly it is" Un bel di vedremo", (one day, or, one fine day, he will come back). That simply and almost completely is the tale of Madama Butterfly. The setting is in Japan nearly a hundred years ago. As the Brits would say it, a U.S. Naval Lieutenant and cad, not taking his marriage vow seriously, does not return to his fifteen year old Japanese bride then with unborn child, for three years. A contemporary takeoff of this story is Miss Saigon. It seems as if any soprano of the past one hundred years that wanted to be remembered as the best, would have to do a memorable job in the recorded role of Butterfly. The role of the naval cad did not have as much appeal though two greats, Pavarotti and Domingo did tackle that role, though many opera fanatics believe that the conductor's role is of greater importance. That is really a tough question to try to answer. Nostalgia will take over if you try to remember those great sopranos of years ago. My first wife, Dot who passed away many years ago, was an alto and seemed to prefer Licia Albanese as Butterfly. Do not forget Mirella Freni, Renata Scotto, Victoria de los Angeles and the other greats of yesteryears that left us with their recorded legacies. You may not prefer the choices on this fine recording though it takes a great deal to do better and I can certainly wait awhile after recommending this overall production. The recorded audio quality of the orchestra is simply outstanding being particularly full, rich and detailed. I must note that at times, loudly recorded female fortissimo treble range passages seemed almost to be a bit edgy as if there were hints of high frequency overload of "edginess or harshness". Microphones can easily have troubles or limitations with female voices at the highest frequency ranges; still an easy recommendation overall.