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Zubin Mehta -
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Savant Blu-ray Review

Zubin Mehta -
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Euroarts -Unitel Classica
1977 / Color / 1:78 adapted to widescreen from flat PAL / 110 min. / Street Date February 26, 2013 / 39.99
Film Editor Robert Lieberman
Produced by David Griffiths
Directed by Kirk Browning

Reviewed by Rick Crawford and Glenn Erickson

Zubin Mehta - Los Angeles Philharmonic is a concert film with excellent sound and a chance to own a high quality video recording of historical importance. Zubin Mehta conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in works by Dvorak, Mozart, and Bartok. With Mehta at the helm the LA Phil metamorphosed the group into a world-class orchestra. Taped over three days in January of 1977, (one year before Mehta chose to become the conductor for the New York Philharmonic), the disc shows the virtuosity of the orchestra beautifully. The viewer experiences the power, elegance, and subtlety of this group from the first moments of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, through the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, to the end of Dvorak's Slavonic Dance. For Mehta fans, the disc is a must buy as it reveals a great conductor in his early forties, full of style, grace, and with complete mastery of the material before him.

Each selection is accompanied by repeated title and credit sequences, including copyright cards, as if they were formatted to play individually. Mehta comes across as very serious and intent -- every musician on the stage seems totally focused. On the Mozart selection the bassoon soloist is David Breidenthal. He enters and plays his instrument while standing at attention. The bassoon is so big, it looks like some kind of weapon. But the sound it makes is uncommonly pure and soothing.

Unitel, the company that produced the disc, is well known for many decades of classical productions for TV. They frequently produce operas as well as concert works, usually multi-camera, as is the case with this disc. The more elaborate productions usually end up on film. As is comes from back in 1977, the Mehta concerts were almost surely videotaped in the European PAL format, which yielded a higher resolution than America's NTSC. It's interesting to note that the production style makes the ensemble and the hall look almost European due to lighting and camera work choices.

For the Blu-ray, Unitel have up converted and reformatted the PAL master to the 16:9 ratio. At times this seems to crowd the frame. For purists, it would be nice to have the original 4:3 pillar-boxed version as either an option or a special feature. One often gets the feeling that valuable information has been compromised with the matting of the original flat image. The packaging implies the disc is HD when it is a good up-convert of a standard definition video master. This disc is HD formatted, but the source material is PAL video.

This is not a disc to show off one's fancy HD setup. The image quality is occasionally flawed by problems common to older video tapes: blurriness, lack of detail, and a tendency toward browns, yellows, and blacks, aliasing, and "jaggies". By comparison, the audio is a delight. One feels like the Dorothy Chandler is around you with the LA Philharmonic performing live in your living room. Soloists are clear, sections can be discerned easily from other sections (for example, the woodwinds from the brass). Detail can be heard during very quiet passages as well as when the composer decides to challenge our ears with a triple forte. As the disc progresses the size of the orchestra is enlarged. Orchestras in Mozart's time were small in comparison to the size of Dvorak's orchestras. Bartok's orchestras tended to be as large as he felt he needed. The Concerto for Orchestra has a mid-sized ensemble. Guessing how a concert or a disc is sequenced is always great fun and this expanding orchestra idea would perfectly explain why Mozart is followed by Bartok and then Dvorak. Finally, there is no distortion to be heard throughout.

As a historical piece, this is a remarkable Blu-ray as it shows a master conductor in top form putting a remarkable ensemble through its paces, playing great pieces of music composed by geniuses. It is unfair to compare the quality of this disc with the cutting edge digital HD operas and concerts being produced today. The best thing to do is to consider it a high-quality concert disc, with "archival" quality video.

Euroarts - Unital Classica's Blu-ray of Zubin Mehta - Los Angeles Philharmonic comes with a booklet appropriate for a classical music release. Liner notes are by Richard Evidon, and Zubin Mehta's original notes on the concert series are included as well. If that weren't classy enough, they're repeated in German and French.

1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Bassoon Concerto in B flat Major

2. Bela Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra

3. Antonin Dvorak: Concert Overture "Carnival" - Symphony No. 8 in G major - Slavonic Dance in G minor

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Zubin Mehta - Los Angeles Philharmonic Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Audio: 2-channel PCM stereo
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 2, 2013

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2013 Glenn Erickson

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