- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: MPEG-2
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 Stereo; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0
- Subtitles: English, French, German, Korean, Chinese
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: C Major
- Blu-ray Release Date: April 24, 2012
- List Price: $39.99
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This set is a two-fer that features a documentary on conductor Mariss Jansons followed by a 2009 performance of Mahler’s immense Symphony No. 2 (“The Resurrection”) with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Jansons is one of the world’s leading maestros and principal conductor of both the RCO and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. It is unusual to get such a detailed and personal look into the life of a world-class musician. Along the way, you see Jansons at work, preparing his Nederlandse Opera production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (recently reviewed on Blu-rayDefinition) as well as concerts in other European venues. As such, it is also a travelogue of Riga, Latvia (Jansons’ home), St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, Salzburg, and Vienna with good location shots. In addition, star performers like baritone Thomas Hampson and piano virtuoso Lang Lang pay tribute to Janson’s talent as musician.
The Mahler Symphony No. 2 was this composer’s first major orchestral work to combine choral elements with those of the standard symphony. This format was not commonly used after Beethoven’s trail-blazing Symphony No.9, and Mahler also championed the choral symphony in his 3rd, 4th, and 8th symphonies. The spiritual essence, the unfettered emotion, and yet perfect control over the vocal and instrumental forces are a trademark of Jansons’ performances, and are completely reflected in this production.
As might be expected, the documentary portion of this BD has extremely varied picture quality as it covers a period of several decades. Robert Neumuller with deft editing, scripting and camera work gets you very close to the documentary’s principal subject, conductor Jansons.
The video quality improves considerably in the concert portion with the performance of the Mahler 2nd Symphony. There is insightful videography highlighting the right instruments at the right time while keeping a proper focus on the entire array of musical forces. Detail and color palette are excellent, in keeping with the C Major tradition. The capture of maestro Jansons’ expressive face effectively conveys his oneness with this music and his orchestral forces.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is 5.0, rather than 5.1, a common recording technique with C Major classical BDs. I really did not notice the absence of the 0.1 channel since the rest of the sound picture is so vivid and huge. After listening to Jansons’ control of the orchestral dynamics, I understand what his musicians have said about him in the documentary. He really knows how to get the most music out of his performers, allowing listeners to get fine points that many conductors gloss over. There is modest ambience in this recording but in terms of depth of soundstage, the 2.0 PCM version yields noticeably to the multi-channel track.
Considering that the documentary is a co-feature rather than after-thought add-on, the remainder of this BD offers only C Major trailers.
The Definitive Word
Hard as it was to believe, this is the fourth BD of the Mahler Symphony No. 2 that I have reviewed in the past year. Included in this list are sensational performances by Claudio Abbado/Lucerne Festival, Ricardo Chailly/Leipzig Gewandhaus, and an emotional 9/11 memorial concert with Alan Gilbert leading the New York Philharmonic. The mark of immortal music is its ability to be translated in very different yet successful approaches, an observation clearly true of this work. What was illuminating about Mariss Jansons’ account was how it opened up inner voices that I had not really heard so clearly before. The delicacy with which the lyrical passages are treated makes this rather large work seem much more intimate than is usually the case. In the second movement, the string passage evokes Mahler’s homage to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, a point that I would have completely missed without Jansons’ careful attention to dynamics. There are many other moments that could be highlighted: the pointed dance rhythms in the third movement; the fabulous mezzo-soprano solo (Bernarda Fink) in the fourth movement; a simply staggering fifth movement featuring stellar choral and soprano solo (Ricarda Merbeth) contributions. Suddenly, the Mahler 2nd symphony sweepstakes has gotten much more crowded. Granted, the BD competition is stiff. Granted, time and money are finite resources for most of us. Granted, shelf space has its limits. All things considered, I do not think that I could be without this particular disc, no matter what, given the extraordinary strengths of this performance. Without demeaning the other choices, the Royal Concertgebouw has been and still is one of the best Mahler orchestras in the world. This BD will certainly reside primus inter pares or first among equals with those previously reviewed and recommended.
Additional Screen Captures