Grofe-Grand Canyon Suite (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) (DVD-Audio) (2001) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Jul-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Booklet
Credits
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 67:28
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor
Naxos
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
William T. Stromberg
Case DVD-Audio Jewel
RPI $19.95 Music Ferde Grofe


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Audio dts 5.1
Audio MLP 48/24 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 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

    For some time Naxos has been progressing through a series of CD releases under the banner American Classics. The purpose of the series is to record the works of (generally) neglected American composers. Coming with the typical bargain Naxos price tag, these recordings have certainly been well received. I have to confess to having indulged in quite a number of these CDs myself - the price tag alone makes investigation entirely possible. In all honesty, I could not say that too many gems have been unearthed by the series - indeed, some of the music is downright crap. But whether crap or otherwise, the important thing is that the music is now available to the public, rather than just hidden away in neglected manuscripts. To be sure, some of the music the series has presented is worth listening to — not top drawer stuff but certainly with plenty of merit.

    So while it might seem odd at first that the second DVD-Audio disc to be released by Naxos is under that American Classics banner, in actual fact it makes a lot of sense. The United States after all is one of the biggest classical music markets in the world, and it is certainly the biggest DVD-Audio market in the world. An American composer on a DVD-Audio disc? Sounds like a good marketing move to me. What is odd, however, is the choice of music to be released on that disc. After all, Ferde Grofé is hardly the most well-known of American composers.

    That was not always the case. Despite the lack of general acclaim nowadays, he did compose some excellent works. Arguably one of his very best, and possibly most loved, work makes up the centrepiece of this collection of suites. The Grand Canyon has inspired poets, novelists, artists and composers for many, many years. Anyone who has actually seen the Grand Canyon knows why: it is an awesome experience, one that you never forget. You can read all about it, you can watch videos of it and study it too your heart's content - but nothing will ever prepare you for the first time you actually visit it.

    The Grand Canyon Suite is a valiant attempt to capture in music the different moods of one of the great natural wonders of the world. Of course it does not do the wonder justice, but I doubt any composer could truly capture the essence of the Grand Canyon in music. Ferde Grofé did as good a job as anyone though, and the moods he attempts to capture are at times quite effective. In particular, the opening movement Sunrise and the closing movement Cloudburst are extremely effective. While the Grand Canyon Suite is obviously the main work on the disc, it should not be seen as overshadowing the other two works. The Mississippi Suite is a slightly earlier work that attempts to capture the nature of that mighty river, from its source to its mouth. To a large extent it does, although naturally enough the thirteen odd minutes of music hardly does justice to the river as a whole. The mood of the river are perhaps captured best by the second movement Huckleberry Finn (attempting to capture the sense of adventure on the river) and the fourth movement Mardi Gras (attempting to capture the joy of that great event in New Orleans). The third work on the disc is actually a commission - for the opening of the Robert Moses Power Plant in 1961, the largest power plant at Niagara Falls. It starts with a very effective movement simply capturing the power of the mighty falls - Thunder Of The Waters. People who have been to Niagara Falls will certainly see that the power of the falls — especially at peak water flow — is well captured here. The rest leaves a bit to be desired (to be polite — the fourth movement in particular is excruciating)

    While the music is generally worth catching up with, what of the performances? Actually, quite good — as stated by the review of the equivalent CD to be found at Gramophone. Sure, it does not quite match the best — I have the Antal Dorati performance mentioned in the Gramophone review and it is far better — but given the relative rarity of the Grand Canyon Suite and the Mississippi Suite even on CD, these performances are welcomed. Given the huge amount of core repertoire still to make either of the surround sound formats, the fact that we have such decent efforts so early on DVD-Audio is very welcome indeed. Which makes the relative disappointments of the soundtracks even more pronounced.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    There is no video on the disc, as everything comprises NTSC menus and stills. Nothing really awry with these.

Audio

    Like all their DVD-Audio discs to date, Naxos have provided us with three soundtracks. These comprise DVD-Video compatible Dolby Digital 5.1 448 kb/s and dts 5.1 soundtracks, together with a DVD-Audio only MLP 48 kHz/24 bit 5.1 soundtrack. I listened to all three soundtracks in their entirety. I know much "discussion" has been entered into overseas with respect of the fact that the MLP soundtrack is only 48 kHz. I take the view that since this was the way the original sessions were recorded, better to get what we have rather than not at all rather than awaiting a remastered 96 kHz soundtrack that may or may not ever eventuate.

    Like the previously reviewed The Four Seasons, the soundtracks seem to have been mixed in such a way that there is little more than natural ambience mixed into the rear channels. Some will not like this but to me it gives the sound a more natural soundscape.

    The DVD-Audio compatible MLP 5.1 is not too bad, although it has two main faults. The first is fairly obvious - the thunderous bass at times. Whilst appreciating that there is a jazz influence in Ferde Grofé's work, I am fairly certain that the bass should not be a boisterous as it is in (for instance) movements two and four of the Mississippi Suite! Equally the bass goes way over the top in the first movement of the Grand Canyon Suite. Whoever was responsible for the mixing lost track of the need to provide the amount of bass to give the depth to the musical pictures as well as to provide a natural sound. What we have here is not a natural sound and it really destroys the sound pictures that Ferde Grofé worked hard to create in his music. The other problem is that the sound just seems to lack the necessary openness that it needs to really create that atmosphere that characterised the earlier Antal Dorati recordings. It really is not congested per se, but that is perhaps the easiest way of describing the lack of air in the sound. Is this a factor of the 48 kHz recording as opposed to full-bodied 96 kHz? The only other problem I have with the sound is that it seems far too analytical.

    The DVD-Video compatible Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is exceedingly similar to the MLP effort. Indeed, if I were to be subjected to an aural-blindfold test I doubt that I could reliably pick the two from each other. Which of course means that the problems that afflict the MLP soundtrack equally afflict the Dolby Digital soundtrack. About the only way the Dolby Digital soundtrack differs is in the sound being a little less analytical, but the soundscape is otherwise lacking any distinction from the MLP effort. Decent but really not much more than that.

    The DVD-Video compatible dts 5.1 soundtrack is far and away the best soundtrack on the disc — and that is simply due to the format having a more diffuse bass sound spread equally across all channels. With the lack of that thunderous bass in those crucial movements, the overall sound is very different in style. It is far less analytical, bordering almost on diffuse although that really is the wrong description. A better description would be a softer, more blended sound that is way less stark in its presentation. There is still little in the way of rear surround channel use, but the overall soundscape is much more natural than the other two efforts. This is the preferred way to listen to this disc.

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

Extras

    Not much of an effort in this instance.

Booklet

    A decent eight page effort, providing notes about the works in three languages.

Credits

    One page of text repeating the stuff off the back cover slick.

R4 vs R1

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

    This DVD-Audio is identical in content and format around the world.

Summary

    Not the best DVD-Audio disc that I ever heard. Let down badly by some rather ropey mixing of two of the soundtracks. Only the dts soundtrack lifts this into the worth considering category — especially as one of the works is pretty ordinary. Indulge in this disc for that dts soundtrack and the first two works on the disc. It can be worthwhile at the price of the disc.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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