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DVD International presents
Handel: A Naxos Musical Journey (2000)

"From the splendor of castles on the English countryside to the luminous nightscape of London, the inspiration for George Frideric [sic] Handel's famed Water Music and Fireworks Music flows as steady as the Thames River."
- From the keepcase blurb

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 11, 2000

Stars: Capella Istropolitana
Director: Bohdan Warchal

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:05m:00s
Release Date: April 25, 2000
UPC: 647715099228
Genre: classical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

DVD International's presentation of the Handel: a Naxos Musical Journey is first-rate all the way. To the sound of Handel's Water Music, written for George II, we are given a tour of Leeds Castle in Kent, Blenheim Palace (the only British palace not owned by the royal family) and Castle Howard in Yorkshire. We also see London at night and are treated to a royal fireworks display at Leeds Castle set to the strains of Handel's Royal Fireworks Music.

The Capella Istropolitana does a fine job with the music. While Handel can, in the wrong hands become tedious, they, under Bohdan Warchal, give an always interesting reading of these popular pieces. One thing I liked in particular was the emphasis given to the winds, especially the horns. This gave an immediacy to the performance which helped dispel much of the dry baroque character of these works.

Unlike the companion Bach volume, which had essentially irrelevant pieces of scenery attached, Handel gives us locations along the Thames (except for the brief bit of Castle Howard), which is exactly the right spot for these compositions written in England, for the English king. Another nice addition is that we also see some of the interiors of these locations, whereas in Bach we only had landscapes to look at. The variety is quite pleasing.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 -
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The picture is startlingly clear and usually bright and attractive. The scenes at Blenheim Palace in particular are bright and sunshiny, which hardly seems English at all. The shots at Leeds Castle are more typically overcast and grayish. Unfortunately, typical though they may be, the greater detail to be observed in the Blenheim segments is to be preferred. At Blenheim, and in the fireworks episodes, the colors are brilliant and spectacular throughout. The Leeds segments tend to be greenish and dark.

The paintings, which are given some attention throughout, are, unfortunately, lit by the spotlights that normally shine on them, rather than film lights. This gives a yellowish cast to the paintings and tapestries, which is often unpleasant and surely inaccurate. The difference between the rooms that are lit artificially and those lit by sunlight is quite disruptive; some color correction ought to have been done on these scenes. There are other problems with interior shots of paintings: the famous portrait of Richard II (among others) is shot several times from an odd, oblique angle which I don't quite understand. We never really get a good look at it.

While these are all problems with source material, since the source material was shot for the DVD, the assemblage should have been more carefully done. I recognize waiting for a sunny day in Leeds could have meant a long, long wait, but it would have made this a much better DVD. The image grade for all but the Leeds section is a solid "A"; the final grade reflects the downward influence of this segment.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0n/ayes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track is involving and highly realistic, with no noise or hiss at all. The mid- and lower-bass is solid and comes through well without being overpowering. The overture to Royal Fireworks in particular makes a great impression. The one niggling point I have is that when this overture was mastered, the segment was cut just a little bit short, so that the natural decay of the sound is cut off abruptly. Other than this, the sound is outstanding on the DD 5.1 track, and I imagine that it is as well on the DTS track (not reviewed here).

The DD 2.0 track is much less full and immediate than the 5.1 track. It comes off sounding rather compressed in comparison. However, it should be adequate if you don't have a 5.1 system.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 26 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Travel Notes
  2. Previews of 12 other DVDs
  3. Repeat option
  4. Shuffle option
  5. One-screen bio of Handel
Extras Review: The extras are again rather on the sparse side. We have brief one-screen travel notes on each locale visited during the movement. However, the menu design continues to irritate me since the travel notes cannot be viewed and the music picked up where you left off; the movement has to be started over from the beginning. That is less of a problem here than it was with the Bach volume since these movements tend by and large to be rather shorter, but it is still an unhappy design. I do wish that the subtitle track (which is empty) would contain travelogue type information on the locations we're viewing, and the name of the movement.

The disc gives the option to repeat the disc indefinitely, or to shuffle the tracks. I tried the shuffle option briefly but found it too annoying since I kept trying to figure out where we were geographically and in the music. Since the chapter indicator is disabled (again, for no good reason), there's no way to tell where you are unless you're exceedingly familiar with the music.

The one extra that is exceedingly generous here is the previews of other DVD's released by or through DVD International. These include the other six initial discs in this Naxos Musical Journey series: Bach Concerti, Italian Festival, Mozart Symphonies 40 and 28, Spanish Festival, Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Christmas Goes Baroque (baroque arrangements of carols familiar and unfamiliar). There are also previews for Video Essentials, Mars the Red Planet (which looks like a fascinating disc from this preview), Earthlight Special Edition, Aquaria, Tender Loving Care and More Tales of the City. These aren't really trailers, but they do give interesting little glimpses of the discs. I just wish it were possible to play them all at once instead of having to go back to the menu and select each one individually.

You can't find out what is shown on the screen for each movement unless you go to the travel notes, individually. To save our visitors that grief, here's a handy guide to the music and the site for reference in connection with this disc:

1. Overture. Blenheim Palace, Woodstock.
2. Adagio. River Thames landscape, Oxfordshire
3. Allegro-Andante. Blenheim, Great Hall and drawing rooms
4. Tempo di Minuetto. Blenheim, Park and artificial lake
5. Air. Blenheim, grounds, Italian garden
6. Menuet. Blehnheim, Victory column and Triumphal Gate
7. Bourree. Blenheim, formal gardens
8. Hornpipe. Blenheim, Grand Cascade waterfall
9. Allegro moderato. London and River Thames
10. Andante-Allegro. Leeds Castle, Kent
11. Alla hornpipe. Leeds, interiors, portrait of Richard II
12. Menuet. Leeds, Green drawing room, chapel
13. Aria. Leeds, paintings and hangings, canopied beds
14. Loure. Leeds, Gloriette (north keep) and inner courtyard
15. Air. Leeds, chapel, medieval woodcarvings
16. Menuet. Leeds, lake setting
17. Menuet. Leeds, ruins of fortified watermill, gate and portcullis
18. Affetuoso. Leeds, exterior
19. Cantagile. Leeds, exterior
20. Coro. Leeds, pictures of hunting scene, night exterior

21. Overture. London by night, fireworks at Leeds Castle
22. Bourree. Castle Howard, Yorkshire
23. La Paix. Castle Howard, porcelain collection, formal bedrooms
24. Le Rejouissance. Castle Howard, busts of Roman Emperors, Long Gallery, Holbein's Henry VIII portrait, Atlas fountain, Vanbrugh's Temple of the Four Winds, Nicholas Hawksmoor's mausoleum
25. Menuet. Leeds Castle with fireworks
26. Menuet. Leeds Castle with fireworks.

Since there is so much disabled, and the menu design is so awkward, the extras grade of C+ gets demoted to a C-.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A gorgeous DVD, both visually and sonically. This one is sure to please Anglophiles, lovers of classical music, travelogues or fireworks. Did I leave out anyone? Highly recommended.


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