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DVD International presents
DVD ReviewEven though I'm not a particularly religious person, one of the highlights of my year is the sing-along Messiah presented annually in Madison. At such a festivity, the audience has scores and sings the choruses of Handel's massive oratorio. Even with my meager singing ability, I can fit in with others who like to sing but aren't terribly good at it.
Thus I was excited to see DVD International's new release of the choruses from Handel's Messiah as part of the continuing series of Naxos Musical Journeys. This time out, we just have a single place on the intinerary: the fantastically elaborate Benedictine Abbey Church at Ottobeuren, Bavaria. This is one amazing church, with frescoes, statuary, gilding, marble, multiple organs, sixteen side altars and everything else one could imagine in a European church. Even after spending an hour looking at the building inside and out with this disc I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of this incredible edifice. There is plenty of closeup photography to allow one to see details, as well as some long shots to establish the gigantic scale of the church. A few tourists occasionally wander into the picture, but this only serves to emphasize the massiveness of the building.
Of course, the music is central, and as we've come to expect on Naxos CD releases the performers are no-name but are well up to the task of the music. The chorus in particular is enthusiastic and their English pronunciation isn't to be faulted at all. Musically, the one quibble I have is with the extended pause before the final Amen; in every other rendition I've heard the previous chorus flows directly into the closing. In addition to the choruses themselves, the overture and the Pastoral Symphony (Pifa) are included to round out the package.
This leads me to the one serious shortcoming of this release: it's not quite complete. Although the packaging indicates 22 tracks, there are only in fact 21. The chorus Let us break our bonds asunder has unaccountably gone astray from the disc, though it's listed on the packaging. This alone keeps the disc from garnering a solid "A" grade for substance.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The photography is beautiful, and the image is crisp, clear and colorful throughout. Black levels are splendid. I saw no sign of compression artifacts or smearing of any kind. The editing was nicely timed to the music, a rhythmic plus which we haven't consistently seen on prior releases in this series.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The first wave of Naxos Musical Journeys often suffered from the fault of the music being cut off too soon, before the sound had completed its decay. I'm happy to report that this problem does not appear on this disc. The sound is bright and pleasing, and the four sections are each clearly audible and easily understood. No hiss or noise was to be heard at all. The DD 5.1 track is superior to the Dolby Surround track in that it gives clearer separation, but both are well worth listening to. A word of warning: the music comes from all channels, so it is as if you are sitting in the chorus, rather than watching the proceedings on stage. This is fine if you prefer the singalong feeling (as I certainly do), but others may dislike it and thus will want to avoid the disc. Bass response is excellent throughout, with the low organ tones often rocking the house.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 21 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
In addition to a one-screen biography of Handel, there are previews of other DVD International discs, in addition to the Naxos Musical Journeys series. On the latter, the voiceover needs work, for it is irritatingly explosive at times. Please, hire a professional voice artist who knows how to use a microphone. The other previews are for Video Essentials, Mars the Red Planet, Earthlight Special Edition, Aquaria, Tender Loving Care and More Tales of the City.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsAn otherwise excellent disc is marred by the omission of an important chorus. The extras are nothing to speak of, but the image, audio and content are all superlative. Recommended (very highly recommended if the omission of that chorus is someday remedied).
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