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DVD International presents
Italian Festival:A Naxos Musical Journey (2000)

From dawn-breaking fishing boats to sun-drenched landscapes; the Tuscan countryside to the magical cities of Genoa, Florence and Venice, these were the sights [sic] of inspiration for some of Europe's greatest master composers.
- From the keepcase blurb

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 12, 2000

Director: Ondrej Lenard, conducting the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra

Manufacturer: Alpha DVD
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Nude statuary)
Run Time: 00h:52m:15s
Release Date: April 25, 2000
UPC: 647715099327
Genre: classical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-B+B- C-

DVD Review

This disc in the continuing series of Musical Journeys brought out by DVD International in cooperation with the Naxos CD label gives us a little different focus than we saw in the Bach and Handel DVDs. Where we were mostly treated to touristy and scenic depictions, with seldom a human being to be seen (except for the occasional tourist wandering into the picture in Handel), with Italian Festival we get a glimpse of daily workaday life amongst the Italians, both in the countryside and the city.

The disc features a dozen movements with an Italian flavor (though notably, only two of the eight composers featured are actually Italian). We begin with Leoncavallo's Mattinata, as we view a harbor scene. As daybreak comes, the sailors begin readying to set sail, to the accompaniment of Cesar Cui's Tarantelle. This segment features some very striking views, indeed.

We then visit the vineyards, against the Scenes Napolitaines of Massenet. There are some odd camera choices here, such as positioning the camera on top of a truckload of grapes, and watching the scenery pass behind you (for the camera points backward), with mounds of sweaty grapes filling the bottom half of the picture. This segment is not recommended for those with motion sickness; I'm getting a little queasy just writing this.

We then visit some churches in a small village, set to the Saltarello of F. Gounod. The one piece that will be familiar to everyone, Denza's Funiculi, Funiculahas a rather unique setting: we ride a cable car through much of Genoa. This works quite nicely, since the cable car travels slowly enough that we can take in the atmosphere, and aren't feeling either breathless or too stationary.

For Godard's Scenes Italiennes (including another Tarantelle—this disc could also have been called Tarantella festival!) we see large portions of the city of Florence. Sometimes, this is less than pretty, as we see some rather dumpy neighborhoods, but it certainly gives the impression of being authentic. We continue with Franz Liszt's version of yet another Tarantelle, and conclude with the obligatory version of Mendelssohn's Gondolier Song. The photography for this segment, interestingly enough, was done in winter; the mounds of snow and the fog over the city give us a Venice that seldom shows up in the travelogues. This setting also does justice to the extremely misterioso flavor which Lenard gives to the music. This last segment is easily the best on the disc and carries the day.

The running time is shown on the case as 56 minutes; however, adding up the actual running times of the music leaves us nearly four minutes short of that mark.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Colors are vivid throughout; sometimes the blue of the sky seems unnaturally vivid. Bit rates are uniformly high, averaging around 8 Mbps. The urban settings tend to be somewhat on the unattractive side: for instance, in one case we linger on a spot of graffiti on a rundown building. While this might be acceptable for a documentary, I don't think that's quite appropriate for what's being presented here. During the La Procession et l'Improvisateur segment, we are taken through some narrow streets at pretty high speed. When you combine this with the fisheye lens that was used, the distortion is quite unpleasant and detail is difficult to make out. These various strange choices downgrade what would otherwise be a solid "A" grade.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0no
Dolby Digital
5.1
yes
DTSno


Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 audio is excellent, as on the other two discs reviewed thus far. The DD 2.0 track is less satisfying, with the lacking midrange and bass, and tends to be a little shriller. There is one huge drawback to the audio transfer, however. The technicians doing the mastering apparently were in some kind of a hurry, because in several tracks the audio is shut off before the concluding notes have had a chance to decay and for the reverberation to die away. The result is quite disruptive. Please, folks, a couple more seconds isn't going to hurt you; the disc is short enough as it is. If this cutoff were present on more than a few tracks, I would have downgraded this even farther. What should have been a solid "A" again is brought down by the inattention to these details.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Music/Song Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Travel Notes
  2. Repeat option
  3. Shuffle option
  4. Previews of 12 other DVDs distributed by DVD International
Extras Review: The travel notes are accessible only through the menu, which is highly irritating since it is impossible to resume the music where you left off; you have to begin the track over from the start. This menu design irks me more the more I have to deal with it. The notes are brief, one screen only, and on some occasions the notes are duplicated from movement to movement. The frustration is only increased when you learn that you have navigated through this difficult menu only to see the same notes that applied to the prior movement. This material should be available in a subtitle or as an alternate angle so that it could be accessed properly while playing the music.

We do not get any biographical information about the composers this time around, which is a shame; the single screen that Bach and Handel received was at least something.

There is an option to repeat the entire disc, should you care to do so, or to shuffle the tracks. The latter is annoying in practice because the chapter markers are disabled; thus unless you know the music intimately you have no clue as to what music you might be hearing or what you might be seeing. Indeed, other than the travel notes, there's no indication on the disc or the packaging as to what you're seeing. This very much reduces the utility of the disc as a travelogue and the viewer is left to puzzle over what on earth he might be looking at. Following is a list of all of the tracks and the scenes viewed during the track, for reference:

1. Leoncavallo: Mattinata. Sestri Levante (south of Genoa), harbor
2. Cui: Tarantelle. Sestri Levante: harbor, parish church, Romanesque Church of San Nicolo

Massenet: Scenes Napolitaines
3. La Danse. Montepulciano, Contucci vineyards, Church of San Agostino
4. La Procession et l'Improvisateur. Same, and at night; commedia del arte bellringer figure
5. La Fete. Montepulciano, Contucci vineyards. winemaking

6. Gounod: Saltarello. Montepulciano, Church of San Madonna di San Biagio
7. Denza: Funiculi, Funicula. Genoa by cable car

Godard: Scenes Italiennes
8. Serenade Florentine. Scenes of Florence
9. Sicilienne. Florence, Baptistry of San Giovanni, including Ghiberti's famous bronze gates
10. Tarentelle. Florence, Piazza della Signora, Palazzo Vecchio, Neptune Fountain, Michelangelo's David (a copy)

11. Liszt: Tarantelle. Landscape and Il Castello (ancient fortress) at Montepulciano
12. Mendelssohn: Venetian Gondolier's Song. Venice in winter

The most generous extra is the inclusion of previews, with voice over, of the other Naxos Musical Journey DVD's, Bach Violin Concerti, Handel Water Music/Royal Fireworks Music, Spanish Festival, Vivaldi Four Seasons, Mozart Symphonies 40 and 28, and Christmas goes Baroque. Also included are previews of Video Essentials, Mars the Red Planet, Earthlight: Special Edition, Aquaria, Tender Loving Care and More Tales of the City.

Again, the Extras grade of C+ is downgraded because of the menu design and the disabling of the chapter numbers and the time functions.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

A rather enjoyable little journey through Italy, with emphasis on daily life as opposed to the tourist attractions, is unfortunately marred by a tendency to cut the music short. Serious music lovers will be dismayed by this drawback; those less critical may well be satisfied for the reasonable price.

 


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