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Mr. John Manning (Penarth, Vale of Glam Wales)

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La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi (Teatro alla Scala, Milano 2008) [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free] [NTSC]
La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi (Teatro alla Scala, Milano 2008) [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Angela Gheorghiu
Price: £8.99

39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute bargain, 6 May 2010
When I saw the price of this disc I was suspicious that it might not be the complete opera; rest assured it is the whole work, with the bonus of tasters of other HD issues.
La Scala's production can be described as traditional and sumptuous - sets, costumes, lighting, makeup, direction etc. all first class. The two main principals, Angela Gheorghiu and Ramon Vargas need no introduction, while Roberto Frontali as Giorgio Germont has a fine voice, younger-sounding than is sometimes found in this part. Lorin Maazel holds everything together expertly and draws some fine playing from the La Scala orchestra.
Gheorghiu and Vargas are in fine voice, and sing their solos most affectingly. She acts her heart out, from flashing eyes to quivering bosom, while he moves well but does not always carry the part in his facial expression; he does show a little more emotion after a well-deserved slap from his stage father in the finale to act 2.
The minor solo parts, and the renowned La Scala chorus, are all excellent. The La Scala audience is generous in its appreciation and gets curtain calls after each act.
Picture quality is as good as I have seen, with just a little movement judder very occasionally from my Oppo player. Shots are well-chosen, vision control very good. I have seen criticism elsewhere of the audio balance between soloists and the rest, but I would disagree. I wish I could say that the sound of La Scala is faithfully reproduced, but since I haven't had the pleasure of being in the audience in Milan I can only say that the sound is natural and believable. Those used to having soloists individually miked may notice the difference here; the impression I have is of surround microphones located somewhere near the front edge of the stage, so that when soloists turn away from the audience the quality of their voices changes in a natural manner. Whereas they blend with the orchestra and chorus, they are neither over-prominent or submerged - Gheorghiu, of course, is well able to project her top notes so as to be always heard.
In general the audience is pretty quiet - there is nothing worse than coughing from the audience as well as Violetta in her death scene - and the most noticeable extraeneous noise is what I take to be air-conditioning just audible in quiet moments between the notes. My comments refer to the DTS-master 7.1 tracks which make good (but not obvious) use of the rear channels (except for the tambourines flourished by the female dancers in the finale to act 2, which wander about sonically).
Comparisons between this recording and the similarly traditional LA opera production on Decca blu-ray are interesting but too lengthy for this review. Suffice it to say that both are excellent; Decca's sound is a little more polished but Arthaus has the appearance of honesty; I'm glad to be able to say that I can enjoy both versions.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 6, 2016 1:20 PM GMT

Dvorak: Requiem Op. 89, Symphony No. 8 Op. 88 (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Mariss Jansons)
Dvorak: Requiem Op. 89, Symphony No. 8 Op. 88 (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Mariss Jansons)
Price: £18.42

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable Dvorak, 1 May 2010
To my astonishment, this disc is my first encounter with Dvorak's Requiem Mass, and now I cannot imagine why I hadn't heard it before. It has all the hushed reverence and drama that the genre calls for, and with Dvorak's unmistakable signature. Jansons crafted a memorable performance, his orchestra, soloists and Wiener Singverein chorus all responding admirably. I ought not to make any particular comment, but the tenor Klaus Florian Vogt's ringing light tone especially catches my ear; but then Thomas Quasthoff's introduction to the Dies Irae is most memorable, and the tubular bells were an inspired idea..... forget it, just enjoy it all.

Dvorak's eighth symphony is more well-known, and I expected it to be an enjoyable filler - but it is much, much more. For those who assert that today's conductors do not have the total control over their orchestra that the 'great oldies' did, this proves them wrong. I used the word 'crafted' for the requiem, and the same description applies to the symphony. Time after time I noted Janson's points of detail that had previously escaped me; he achieves his magic without the result appearing stilted, although some might like the dancing third movement (Allegretto Graziozo) to flow more freely (but not me).

Some items from the notes - the requiem is split over 2 SACDs after the Hostias, and the timings are 76.37 and 60.09 (including the symphony). Whereas the requiem was recorded on 5th and 6th February 2009, the symphony recording was split over 5 dates in 2007 and 2008 (with no effect on the result that I can detect).

As for the 5.0 recording, the live audience is confined to applause only; how this was accomplished without close microphone placement I do not know. In both works the impression is of a naturally balanced and distanced sound, slight hall reverberation blurring the chorus just a little in the requiem. Everything is clearly heard; whereas the soloists are not artificially boosted, their words are clearer than the chorus and their position a little forward. Frequency and dynamic range are excellent; the rear speakers give just the right degree of ambience, and only draw attention to themselves during the applause. Listening in stereo, the resultant sound is slightly crisper, and as well balanced, without some of the atmosphere. There's precious little I care to criticise in both works.

I am delighted with this issue.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2014 4:57 PM GMT

Symphony No. 7 - Marcus Bosch cond. (2CD)
Symphony No. 7 - Marcus Bosch cond. (2CD)
Price: £16.49

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting choice of media, 26 April 2010
I did not purchase this item from Amazon, but from a site that described it as a SACD. That description proved to be misleading, as the symphony is duplicated on 2 discs, one a normal stereo CD and the other a 'DTS-encoded 5.1 channel surround CD'. The original 2004 recording is apparently 24 bit. The second CD may raise compatibility issues for some purchasers; I have played both discs on an Oppo blu-ray player with no problems, and also on my computer DVD/CD drive with full (surround) facilities available on the second disc.
As for the recording, it is live and, aptly for Bruckner's 'cathedrals in sound', is recorded in St. Nikolaus' church, Aachen. Having been disappointed by Coviello's live recording of the Verdi Requiem (also under Bosch) because of audience noise, I was not wholly confident of this one. However, my doubts were soon dispelled and I count this as probably my most enjoyable Bruckner recording. Marcus Bosch and his Aachen Symphony are very well-versed in this music and the recording excellent. Although there is a decay time appropriate to a church, there is not appreciable blurring and the overall effect is smooth, full and rounded. Violins are silky, brass glint and snarl in turn, and overall balance is realistic. In the surround disc the rear speakers add a little ambience.
I cannot detect any audience noise.

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 (LSO/Gergiev)
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 (LSO/Gergiev)
Price: £8.99

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LSO Live at its best, 26 April 2010
The CD description given by Amazon accurately portrays this quintessentially romantic work; in particular, the slow movement melody is very well known. Of Rachmaninov's three symphonies, it is the most popular, and this is my fourth SACD of the work.
Gergiev's duration is almost 61 minutes - he does not linger unduly, but neither does he rush, with the possible exception of the closing bars, which I have not heard to sound faster than on this SACD. As a comparison, Paavo Jarvi on Telarc (see my review) takes approximately 4 minutes longer overall. Incidentally, there is no 'filler' on this disc, unlike Jarvi's.
Obviously the LSO is very familiar with this popular work; it has made memorable recordings of it (including one with Andre Previn that I treasured) and the musicians give their all for Gergiev. If any orchestra can provide the conductor with all his requirements, the LSO can; there are many beautiful moments on this disc including a ravishing clarinet solo in the slow movement. Gergiev's tempo and dynamic changes are accomplished with ease, and the brisk ending is the only point at which I hear any effort.
I am pleased to be able to welcome a new recording from this source; the LSO Live series has not always satisfied me. As a whole I would describe this recording as clear, revealing, slightly dry and lean-sounding. There is no audience noise, and the slight dryness in the timpani and bass drum lead me to guess that it is multi-miked, balanced expertly. As with some previous issues from LSO Live, I find that an increase in my normal volume level, (of about 3dB), pays dividends and helps to add some ambience, and clarity in the double-basses. Discreet use of the rear speakers also helps with the ambience in surround - the stereo tracks sound slightly drier and not quite as smooth in the upper frequencies. There are many plus points to this disc, and if I were forced to have only one recording of this symphony I would not be too upset if this were the one.
I see that the other two symphonies are planned, and I will be very interested to hear them.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2012 1:33 PM GMT

Schumann: Piano Concerto I (Piano Concerto No.1/ Symphony No.4 Live Recording June 2006) [Blu-ray] [2010]
Schumann: Piano Concerto I (Piano Concerto No.1/ Symphony No.4 Live Recording June 2006) [Blu-ray] [2010]
Dvd ~ Schumann
Price: £25.65

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Give this a fifth star if you're an Argerich fan, 16 April 2010
In addition to the concerto and symphony, this live concert includes 3 other Schumann works. Taken from Kinderzenen, Op. 15: "Vom fremden Ländern und Menschen" is a short solo encore from Argerich, and the orchestra plays excerpts from the Symphonic Studies (orch. Tchaikovsky) and 4 pieces from "Carnaval" (orch. Ravel).
The orchestrated items make interesting alternatives to the original piano versions, and give the players a chance to display some colour.
In the symphony, Chailly gives a straightforward and enjoyable reading. Argerich displays her mastery with the deceptively simple encore; she is able to find a depth of meaning that is only possible when the pianist can let the fingers get on with the business of supplying the notes and speak to us directly from the mind.
As for the concerto, if you like Argerich's style then you will enjoy this performance. There are glittering contrasts, and she leaves us in no doubt that she has definite views on its interpretation. For me, I would have preferred a little more relaxation, and more willingness to provide accompaniment to the woodwind solos. An enjoyable performance, then, but for me not ideal for the Schumann concerto.

Picture quality is excellent and the director chooses his shots well. The Gewandhaus is lit straightforwardly with just a little blue highlighting of the organ pipes, seen in wide-angle, and our attention is kept on the musicians.
The 5.1 PCM audio is also excellent, realistic in frequency and dynamic range, ambience lifting the sound from the front speakers. We are given a pianist's view of the piano, slightly wide with bass to the left of centre and treble to the right. The piano is balanced nicely against the orchestra. I feel that the trumpets and trombones could have a little more prominence, but their audio presence tallies with their physical placement at the rear of the stage, separated from the rest of the orchestra.
The audience is quiet and only intrudes over the start of Argerich's encore.
This is a disc that gives me much pleasure.

Prokofiev: Piano Concertos (Piano Concertos 2 & 3/ Piano Sonata 2)
Prokofiev: Piano Concertos (Piano Concertos 2 & 3/ Piano Sonata 2)
Price: £13.66

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A winner from BIS, 9 April 2010
Prokofiev's piano concertos allow the pianist ample opportunity to display technical brilliance, and Kempf makes full use of it to dazzle the ear. Happily, he also displays thoughtfulness and a real aptitude for revealing Prokofiev's sometimes quirky personality. Andrew Litton shows himself to be a sensitive accompanist with his virtuosic Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.
Prokofiev's sonata no.2 is an intermission between his concertos nos. 2 and 3, but is hardly 18 minutes of rest and relaxation for the listener or the hard-worked pianist. Kempf articulates it brilliantly.

The stereo and 5.0 tracks need about 3 dB extra level on my equipment to achieve my average listening level, when the realistically high dynamic range is revealed, without a hint of compression. Frequency range is also wide, but I would have liked a little more mid-range presence to mitigate slight thinness and a little shrillness in the upper reaches of the woodwinds. It would also help to warm the piano tone; balance between piano and orchestra is realistic, i.e. the piano is not obviously boosted as in many recordings (but still clearly audible at all times). Orchestral balance is also very good.

The rear channels supply some ambience, and as a whole the effect is slightly dry, and ideally clear.

Brahms: Piano Concerto No.2 (Piano Concerto No.2 Live At Jerwood Hall St Luke's London 2009) [Blu-ray] [2010]
Brahms: Piano Concerto No.2 (Piano Concerto No.2 Live At Jerwood Hall St Luke's London 2009) [Blu-ray] [2010]
Dvd ~ Brahms
Price: £23.56

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Considered Brahms, 24 Mar. 2010
This performance is a described in the notes as a celebration of the pianist, "50 years on". From the evidence of this blu-ray disc, he has matured into a thoughtful interpreter who can reveal inner details of the music he presents to us. I would describe the concerto performance as from the head rather than from the heart, though by no means cold. Sir Colin Davis matches the mood with the orchestral accompaniment, and as a whole I felt satisfaction rather than excitement with the end result. In the third movement the cello is beautifully played.

Although the title for this disc implies that it is a live performance, I see and hear no evidence of an audience. Whereas the Jerwood hall looks to have lots of hard surfaces and no audience to soak up the high frequencies, the overall effect is slightly restricted at the top end of the spectrum, subduing the violins and the percussiveness of the piano. This accentuates the nature of the performance. Warm and full would be my description of the 5.1 surround sound, naturally balanced and with discreet rear ambience. Video is excellent, both in the direction and technical quality of the pictures.

Of the extras, I skipped the interviews and watched the recital from the Prado, Madrid. Achuccarro reinforces the impression given in the concerto with 3 intermezzos (op.117) by the same composer; whereas I initially felt that his style lacks a sophisticated polish, there is nevertheless honesty and a deep understanding in evidence, and this carries on through the two Chopin preludes, the two Scriabin pieces for the left hand and El Puerto from Albeniz' Iberia. I feel that the 'raindrop' prelude would benefit from a steadier tempo to imitate the drip-dripping of the rain, but the second of the preludes demonstrates an admirable technique. It is difficult to imagine that the intricacies of the Scriabin pieces could be accomplished by the left hand alone; Achuccaro's intellect shines through.

Technically, the pictures at the Prado do not feature the picturesque surroundings but concentrate on the pianist. I'm glad I wasn't credited with the lighting, which allows Achuccaro's white shirt to dominate, and to cast distracting moving (camera?) shadows on his face. Overall, however, the pictures are technically good. Sound is apparently 4.0 channels; the piano is close but not unduly so for a small room, and full in frequency range. Dynamically I feel short-changed; there is not enough contrast between pp and ff, which I'm sure is not the fault of the pianist. Again, though, overall the sound is more than merely acceptable.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2013 4:46 PM BST

Mendelssohn: Midsummer Nights Dream [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free]
Mendelssohn: Midsummer Nights Dream [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Patricia Barker
Price: £25.65

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A feast for eyes and ears, 9 Mar. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I enjoyed the DVD so much that I had to buy the blu-ray version when it became available. The pictures especially benefit from the extra resolution, surpassing the (excellent) DVD by a good margin.
As has been said, the staging is magnificent and I was enchanted by the children in their insect costumes; it was an inspired idea to turn them all into fireflies in the finale. The different classes of dancers have deliciously coloured costumes appropriate for their characters, and their style of dance is also perfectly choreographed. Puck is impossibly frivolous and shows no sign of the effort that must have gone into the characterisation.
The audio is 16 bit PCM stereo and 5.1, and is excellent. While there is applause (and laughter) when appropriate, there is no extraeneous audience noise and very little stage noise which can sometimes be distracting. To me, the BBC Concert Orchestra sounds as if it is in a good concert hall environment rather than in an orchestral pit, and also sounds as if there are more players than can sometimes be accommodated in a pit, resulting in a smooth violin tone. I found an extra few decibels helps to lift the sound out of the front speakers in 5.1 mode. A little more mid-range presence would suit my ears, but that's a personal choice. What a pleasure it is to hear cymbals that are not being strangled by a limiter. The vocal contributions are very well integrated; all in all I wonder if the music was indeed live or skilfully added later. In any case, the whole experience is an uplifting one and a demonstration of how good blu-ray can be.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2013 4:50 PM BST

Recuerdos (Nordmann) [Sacd/CD Hybrid]
Recuerdos (Nordmann) [Sacd/CD Hybrid]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well played, but on the wrong instrument?, 9 Mar. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I hesitated for a while before curiosity overcame my doubts and I decided to give this solo harp SACD a try. Some of the pieces included are quite familiar to me, and most are usually heard on the guitar. So what if they are played on the harp? They both have strings that are plucked and strummed, don't they?
I attempt to play Isaac Albeniz's 'Asturias' and 'Cordoba' on the piano, and anything would be better than that. They are often played as guitar pieces, and sound at home on that instrument, despite Albeniz having written mostly for piano. Marielle Nordmann has all the technique required, but somehow the essential Spanish feeling is lost. I'm not convinced by her rubato in either of the 2 Isaac Albeniz peces, but the main problem for me is the harp sound.
The harp has quite a long resonance compared with the guitar, and a staccato effect is impossible to achieve in pieces like Asturias, which calls for it. This results in a soft blur of sound which obscures detail. Starting transients are also subdued compared with the guitar sound, (and compared with the percussiveness of a piano), which doesn't help.
Some pieces fare better than others - Villa-Lobos's contemplative Prelude no. 1 for example, and the older compositions; it's where bite and edginess are required that I find this instrument lacking.
Technically the stereo and multi-channel tracks sound fine, setting the harp in a convincing acoustic. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the undoubted achievement of transcribing this music and playing it so well on the harp, but somehow it doesn't work for me.

Volodos, Arcadi - Volodos In Vienna - BLU RAY
Volodos, Arcadi - Volodos In Vienna - BLU RAY
Dvd ~ Johann Sebastian Bach

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb playing, video flawed technically?, 5 Mar. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This well-filled disc contains a variety of musical styles i.e.

SCRIABIN Prélude, Op. 37/1; Prélude, Op. 11/16; Dance Languide, Op. 51/4; Guirlandes, Op. 73/1; Piano Sonata No. 7, Op. 64 "White mass"
RAVEL Valses Nobles Et Sentimentales
SCHUMANN Waldszenen, Op. 82
LISZT Après Une Lecture De Dante
BACH Sicilienne (From Concerto In D Minor, BWV 596)
TCHAIKOVSKY/Volodos Berceuse, Op. 54/10
SCRIABIN Feuille D'album, Op. 45/1

Arkadi Volodos demonstrates that he can mould his phenomenal technique in the service of each composer very convincingly, whilst applying his own personality. There is no hint of effort in his playing even in the technically most demanding passages.
I chose the blu-ray issue of this concert rather than the SACD, considering that the addition of video (for slightly less cost at the time) was better value. Now I'm not so sure; Volodos has a range of facial expressions that is a little distracting.
There is also another oddity that I can scarcely believe would have been allowed to reach the finished product, a cyclic fluttering of the black level of the pictures that can catch ones eye. I have played this disc on my Oppo blu-ray player and on two blu-ray capable drives in my computer, with the same fault visible. If I pause replay and advance frame-by-frame it is obvious.
Audio is caught excellently, and there is very little audience noise.
My advice is to buy the SACD and enjoy the music.

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