Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January '16 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
Die Freischutz 
(Unitel Classica)
One of the staples of the German operatic repertory, Carl Maria von Weber's 1821 classic drama—which concerns a would-be marksman, the young woman he loves and seven magic bullets—is shot through with romantic musical moments. This 2015 Dresden production, while fairly unremarkable as far as story, setting and atmosphere, has illuminating orchestral playing under conductor Christian Thielemann and, in an accomplished cast, Sara Jakubiak superbly plays Agathe, the female lead. This performance looks and sounds tremendous in hi-def.

The Intern 
(Warner Bros)
Nancy Meyers makes movies filled with juvenile comedy masquerading as adult, phony dramatics straining for significance and an unchecked sentimentality that floods the entire enterprise; her new effort is no exception. After retired widower Robert DeNiro begins interning at a hip company for hard-driving boss Anne Hathaway, the odd couple gradually learns life lessons from each other: despite their professionalism, DeNiro and Hathaway can't overcome their writer-director's inadequacies. The hi-def transfer is fine; extras are three featurettes.

King Roger 
(Opus Arte)
One of the great 20th century operas, Polish master Karol Szymanowski's compact 90-minute masterpiece is crammed with tautly unsettling music and a strangely compelling story that nods to ancient myths and Arabic musical idioms. Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien makes a commanding Roger and American soprano Georgia Jarman nearly equals him as the queen; but dominating Kasper Holten's fluid staging is the orchestra’s magnificent playing of Szymanowski's hypnotic score under conductor Antonio Pappano.

The Toxic Avenger Collection
Believe it or not, there are not one, not two, not three, but four Toxic Avenger movies, each more ludicrously amateurish than the previous installment, but that's how Lloyd Kaufman likes it:  the willful ineptitude on display comprises incredibly fake mutilations and disembowelments, coupled with horrible non-acting and cheesy makeup. But the movies enjoy a cult status that stems from the onscreen ridiculousness and, admittedly, there's a certain fascination in watching it all unfold. The hi-def transfers look decent; extras include commentaries, interviews, featurettes and a two-hour making-of mockumentary about the fourth film. 

DVD of the Week
Hate Crimes in the Heartland 
(Virgil Films)
Rachel Lyon's thought-provoking documentary examines two racially motivated crimes in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which occurred nearly a century apart: 1921’s Tulsa Race Riot was led by murderous white supremacists, followed by random 2012 killings of several innocent blacks at the hands of two white men. Although the film's brevity (it clocks in at under an hour), it makes distinct parallels that add up to a salient statement on American race relations, which hasn't progressed as far as we've liked in the past 100 years.

CDs of the Week
Alfredo Casella—Orchestral Works, Vol. 4 
One of the unsung Italian composers of the first half of the 20th century, Alfredo Casella was facile proficient in many genres, even—as the latest volume in a series of Chandos discs shows—though his greatest facility was for orchestral music, three early examples of which are heard here. The excellent BBC Philharmonic, under Gianandrea Noseda's sensitive conducting, performs Casella's Russian-accented Symphony No. 1, gracefully balletic Symphonic Fragments, and haunting Elegia eroica.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg—Violin Sonatas 
(CD Accord) 
Already showing up on many recordings in a classical market that if anything seems relegated to regurgitating the tried and true standards, Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg—who died in 1996 in relative obscurity—has deservedly become a composer of stature, with every new CD of his music consolidating that argument. Here, violinist Maria Slawek and pianist Piotr Rozanski give exceptional performances of some of Weinberg's violin-piano works, including the fiercely hard-nosed Sonata No. 4 and the expansive Sonata No. 5.

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