Of all the classical Blu-rays I've viewed, this one has to be the most relaxing. I expect it will retain that distinction until a Delius disc is released. (Perhaps that's wishful thinking. Is Delius being performed anymore?)
The program, as disparate as it appears to be, actually consists of highly complementary works by very different composers. All are gentle, introspective and inspired by folk music themes.
The first work, Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" starts things off on a magical note with long threads of gorgeous sound, and the spell is never broken. It's beautifully done. Bravo, as always, to the Berlin Philharmonic (arguably the world's greatest orchestra), which here seems to feature many new faces.
Next up are Dvorak's "Biblical Songs." If you're familiar with his opera "Rusalka" or at least its famous aria, the "Song to the Moon," then you have a sense of what you'll experience here. These songs are much earthier than, say, those of Richard Strauss, even though they focus on the heavens. There are 10 songs lasting about 25 minutes, and they are done full justice by the lovely mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena (who happens to be married to conductor Simon Rattle). She's very expressive, facially as well as vocally, and conveys great warmth.
I should mention here that the Blu-ray's audio balance favors the orchestra, so there are a couple of moments where Kozena's voice is somewhat swamped. Also, the hall (more about it later) is quite reverberant, but one's ears adjust quickly. I'm sure this venue posed a major challenge for the video's sound engineers.
Of course, the likelihood of these songs being captured on hi-def video again is remote, so if they are of interest, there's no need to look further than this heartfelt performance.
The final piece is Beethoven's 6th Symphony. This highly familiar work -- my favorite among Beethoven's symphonies -- receives an excellent reading here.
The setting for this concert is the Spanish Hall at Prague Castle. It's quite stunning, with elaborate ornamentation that goes on for days. The video director is understandably unable to resist lingering over the sculpture-filled, gold-leafed walls and the huge chandeliers featuring busts and cherubs.
This performance was captured in May, only months before the Blu-ray's release. The picture quality is perhaps the best I've ever seen. The technology obviously continues to improve, because just when you think the picture can't get any sharper, it does. The audio quality, save for the couple of minor issues mentioned above, is very satisfying.
Not long before this performance, Rattle announced that he would be leaving his post with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2018, at which point he will have conducted the orchestra for 16 years. It's been a wonderfully symbiotic relationship, and he'll be greatly missed. Here's hoping EuroArts captures many of their remaining performances together and releases them on Blu-ray.
I was provided with a review copy of this particular disc, although I've purchased many EuroArts discs (as well as those of other classical music labels) over the years.