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NAXOS MUSICAL JOURNEY

    

Review by Michael Jacobson

Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo, DTS
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  DVD International
Features:  Previews, Travel Notes
Length:  Approximately 50-60 minutes each
                               

Films ***

The Naxos Musical Journey discs represent some of the most pleasant experiences I’ve had with my player.  What DVD International has done with this series (fourteen so far and counting), is put beautiful visual images to great classical music recorded in stunning digital 5.1 sound.  The listening experience is so incredible, you’d get your money’s worth from these discs even if you never turned on your TV or monitor once—though you’d certainly miss some fantastically wondrous living room journeys if you did.

I had the pleasure of viewing two of the most recent releases, Handel:  The Messiah (Choruses) and Christmas Goes Baroque.  After playing both of them, I’m convinced you can’t have two better DVD’s for the holiday seasons, even if you just use them for background ambience.

Handel:  The Messiah (one of two titles featuring this composer currently available) features images filmed from within and around the historic Benedictine Abbey Church in Bavaria, shown to the choral accompaniment of the legendary classical piece.  There are enough shots to make you feel like you’ve been to the church, with careful attention paid to the remarkable architecture and artwork housed within.  I watched most of the video, but sometimes, I just put my head back and closed my eyes and enjoyed the musical presentation.  Either way you go, you can’t lose.

Christmas Goes Baroque is even more delightful, featuring orchestral arrangements of holiday favorites in the style of Vivaldi, Handel and Bach.  Songs like “Silent Night”, “The First Noel”, and even “Jingle Bells” get the benefit of full classical orchestration.  All of this music is set to wonderful video capturing the beauty of the holiday season with festive images from all across Europe, including gorgeous snow covered landscapes in Switzerland and an open-top ride through the colorful, brightly lit cities at night.

Both of these discs would help create a festive mood in your household for the holidays—but if you love classical music in general, this series has plenty to offer.  All the great composers are featured, from Mozart to Beethoven, from Bach to Vivaldi and more.

All in all, this looks to be a remarkable series for music lovers.  The marriage of image to sound creates an incredible overall experience and a remarkable, enchanting utilization of the DVD medium.

Video ***1/2

Although I couldn’t find any information on the actual filming for these discs, all images appear to have been captured on digital video.  In some ways, using video helped make landscapes and interiors alike look more natural, making the experience seem closer to actually being there.  There are a few instances of holiday lighting at night in Christmas Goes Baroque that exhibit some flaring—a common occurrence with video cameras, but nothing distracting.  Apart from that, all shots are nicely lit and rendered, with beautiful, natural looking colors that really capture the splendor of all subject matter.  The interiors of the church in Handel are quite beautiful, with plenty of close-up shots for nice detail.  Overall, I found the full frame video experience close to perfection, but if you want the REAL goods, read on…

Audio ****

WOW!  I don’t even know where to begin.  The audio quality on these recordings is simply stunning.  I have a full digital recording of excepts from The Messiah on CD, and I doubt I’ll ever listen to it again!  With full digital 5.1 soundtracks featuring extraordinary dynamic range, classical music has NEVER sounded so good.  The orchestrations are arranged to include both front and back stages for a truly enveloping listening experience, and even the .1 channel gets to kick in for the tympani and lower registered instruments.  When the Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah started up, I turned my receiver up a few notches, sat dead center, and was blown away.  It was exactly like going to the symphony.  The music was dynamic and so crystal clear, I could identify the individual instrument parts.  Best of all, I could really FEEL the vibrations from the music from head to toe, just like a live classical concert.  Although I only have Dolby Digital capabilities, I’d certainly wager that the DTS track would be an equally exceptional listen. 

I’m 100% convinced that DVD audio is the future for classical, if not all, music.  It just doesn’t get any better than this!

Features *

The disc contains previews of other DVD International titles, plus a promo for the full Naxos Musical Journey series—nicely done, but sadly, recorded in stereo only, when the 5.1 audio is the best aspect of the discs!  Plus, you can use the menu key at any time during the program to call up the Travel Notes, which will provide the curious with a little bit of information as to where you are and what you’re looking at.  There is also a special repeat mode feature to let your discs play on and on and on.

Summary:

I never thought I’d love anything DVD had to offer as much as movies.  I was wrong.  The Naxos Musical Journey discs are breathtakingly beautiful collages of images and sound that brings some of the world’s most wonderful locations right into your home, along with incredible 5.1 soundtracks of classical music that raise the digital recording quality standards straight into the stratosphere.  Pick your composer or your theme and enjoy.  Whether you watch or just listen, your DVD player and your audio system will thank you.