Handel-Messiah: A Sacred Oratorio (2002)

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Released 20-Jan-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Menu Animation & Audio
Interviews-Cast & Crew
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 135:32 (Case: 132)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:00) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Lindesay Dresdon
Studio
Distributor
ABC Classics
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Antony Walker
Sara Macliver
Alexandra Sherman
Christopher Field
Paul McMahon
Teddy Tahu Rhodes
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $36.95 Music George Frideric Handel


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Audio Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Audio dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    There are many works of classical music that are known to the general public. A small section of Beethoven's 9th symphony was famously used to form the backbone of the Die Hard soundtrack, the first of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches is now far better known as The Land Of Hope And Glory, the first of Vivaldi's Four Seasons - Spring - is well known in its own right, while Rossini's overture from William Tell will set anyone to thinking about horses. There is another on this list - possibly one of the most famous pieces of music ever written - the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. It is somewhat amusing to consider that the three and a half minute chorus that has helped make Messiah so famous comprises only around one percent of the length of the total work.

    Published in 1741, Messiah comes from late in the Baroque period of music. At this time orchestras were considerably smaller than the "modern" symphony orchestra, more closely resembling the chamber orchestra in being based around the harpsichord. Messiah is an oratorio - a form of music that contained dramatic lyrics like an opera, but that is staged as a concert, without sets or acting, and a form of music of which Handel was very fond.

    All lyrics in Messiah are taken from The Bible, and are used to tell the story of God who loves his people so much that he sends a Messiah to redeem them. While that may seem to be somewhat religious - largely because it is - that should not affect anyone's judgement of it. Regardless of religious background or ideals, Messiah is renowned as one of the greatest musical works ever produced for a reason - the combination of exquisitely beautiful music and an epic story (even for those who are non-religious, The Bible is still one of the most highly regarded literary texts), and a story sung in English no less, leads to a musical experience that is enjoyable and refreshing every time.

    Messiah has been performed at least once a year, every year since its first performance in Dublin in 1742. This performance, while not up there with some of the very best, is at least totally competent, and well put together. The visual presentation can be a little disconcerting (the extreme close-ups on the solo vocalists are confronting, and a little off-putting to say the least), and the setting and staging are quite disappointing, looking drab and very minimalist. Additionally, the director apparently felt the need to use some very strange focusing to get the solo vocalists and the conductor - at opposite sides of the screen - in focus at the same time, causing the orchestra between to become a blur. However, it is the music that is the most important, and that is beautiful as ever - just switch the TV off, and enjoy.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video quality is good without being spectacular. There are no real problems at all with the transfer, it is just that it does not look as impressive as it should.

    Presented at 1.78:1, this transfer is 16x9 enhanced. It is difficult to know if this is the intended aspect ratio. The extreme close-ups of the solo vocalists would suggest that the image has actually been cropped from 1.33:1, but I cannot confirm this.

    The transfer is a little on the soft side. The image displays only just enough detail to be watchable, but no more. It is as if the entire transfer is being viewed though every-so-slightly opaque glass - not enough to actually be seen, but just enough to obscure fine detail. Shadow detail is also a little lacking, where large areas of the stage that are not well lit can easily meld into one. There is no low level noise or grain present.

    Colours, again, are good enough, but just do not appear vibrant. What should be a rich and sumptuous setting instead looks a little drab and lifeless.

    There are no compression artefacts at all, nor are there any film artefacts in this transfer. Aliasing, while present and accounted for where expected (violin strings, such as at 6:21 and 89:49), is always minor and never particularly distracting.

    The only subtitles on this disc are used to name the movements as they occur. While this is useful, it would have been nice to see full lyric subtitling.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc with the layer change taking place at 55:00 between Chapters 21 and 22. This is between parts I and II, and is completely invisible - there is no sound, and it is a blank screen. There is absolutely no way to find this layer change without a layer indicator. That is how it should be.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer mostly makes up for the lacklustre video transfer, delivering a very good listening experience.

    There are two audio tracks present on this disc. They are both the original performance recording, in Linear PCM stereo, and DTS 5.1 (half bit-rate).

    The soundtracks are clear and transparent. Vocals are well separated from the music, while the instruments are easy to pick out. The PCM track does seem to be a bit finer in this regard, giving a slightly more detailed sound. On the other hand, the DTS has the advantage of the centre channel for the vocals, freeing up the main speakers for the music, presenting a more precise sound. In the end, personal preference will decide between the two - my preference is for the PCM track.

    Audio sync is generally good, although there is one occasion from 107:40 to 107:50 where it becomes a little suspect.

    The surround channels in the DTS track are largely ignored, providing only the most minimal of ambient reflections that are really quite useless. Both DTS and PCM soundtracks have good stereo separation, although the PCM track is a little better in this regard, giving a slightly more expansive representation.

    The subwoofer is, as is to be expected, barely used at all, providing some backing for the timpanis when they come in, and otherwise barely raising a rumble.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras are quite interesting, although not exactly extensive.

Menu

    The menu is animated, 16x9 enhanced, and features Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Interviews (29:39)

    This section presents interviews with all the vocal soloists, the conductor, and two of the musicians. They can be accessed individually, but they play as a whole, each running into the next. They are presented at 1.78:1, are 16x9 enhanced, and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Biographies

    Short biographies are provided for most of the interview subjects (the orchestra members miss out), as well as the Cantillation vocal group and the Orchestra of the Antipodes as a whole.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This particular recording is not available outside of Australia. In fact, it seems that this may well be the only full performance of Messiah available anywhere in the world on DVD-Video. Pretty spiffy.

Summary

    This is a good performance of one of the most famous pieces of music ever written. It doesn't, however, come over particularly well on a visual medium. That's not really a problem however, because if you turn off the TV, you have a quality soundtrack and don't need to get up to change discs half way through (as at a running time of over 130 minutes, Messiah is too long to fit on a single CD).

    The video quality is good - there is nothing to complain about at all - but is quite uninspiring, being quite flat and drab.

    The audio quality is very good. The DTS and PCM tracks are only subtly different, although enough that it is likely that a preference will emerge.

    The extras are quite limited, although they are interesting. The interviews are a very welcome accompaniment to the performance, and help to put a more human face on it.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Friday, February 14, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-555K, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersRochester Audio Animato Series (2xSAF-02, SAC-02, 3xSAB-01) + 12" Sub (150WRMS)

Other Reviews NONE
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