There appears to be a rather startling - and alarming - inconsistency in the approach of record companies to the issue of Blu-ray discs. Although all are making the most of the increased disc capacity to produce their recordings at the highest possible quality, there is a massive discrepancy in the amount of music they provide on the disc. The ultimate is, I suppose, the issue of a single Blu-ray CD in the luxury edition of the Decca/Solti Ring, although this has still not been released other than as part of the expensive limited edition. Possibly the company are considering re-mastering the disc to eliminate the ludicrous editing error in Act One of Siegfried, which reduces the value of what would otherwise be a superlative product.
This Naxos release, on the other hand, makes no use whatsoever of the extended playing times available on Blu-ray; it is a simply release of the original CD material. Surely there is a missed opportunity here. Apart from anything else, the most famous of Gershwin’s pieces for piano and orchestra, the Rhapsody in Blue, is omitted. The addition of this item, which could have been imported from an earlier Naxos release with the same performers, would have made this disc more valuable as a complete representation of all of Gershwin’s works for piano and orchestra. Then again they could have added the Cuban Overture and An American in Paris - possibly in the restored complete edition by George Schwarz, already in their catalogue - to make a set of all of Gershwin’s music with orchestra. As it is, prospective purchasers may feel somewhat short-changed.
Some of Naxos’s other Blu-ray releases have also made use of the increased capacity of the disc to provide on-screen information - texts, translations and so on - to enhance the viewer or listener’s enjoyment. Here the visual element is restricted to a series of moving abstract projections, rather in the style of the similar production on Windows Media Player, which really do nothing to make the disc more desirable. So one’s real reason for purchasing this disc must be confined to the wish to hear these performances in the best possible sound. This is where the Blu-ray medium may encounter problems because the results which can be obtained are heavily dependent on the equipment on which the disc is played.
I found that playing the disc on an ordinary Blu-ray player attached to a television produced a good solid CD sound, but that the balance was not ideal with the full-bodied strings somewhat lacking in substance. On the other hand, playing the same disc on a top-of-the-range system produced a much more tangible effect with real depth and warmth in a much more resonant acoustic. The performances themselves are very good indeed: lively and supple, with playing from Orion Weiss of marvellous aplomb - although he sounds closer at some points in the concerto than in others. So, if you already have a version of Rhapsody in Blue in your collection and want to supplement this with a superb modern recording of Gershwin’s other works for piano and orchestra, this issue is self-recommending. One just wishes that Naxos could have made more imaginative use of the new medium.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Previous reviews (CD):
Dan Morgan ~~ John Whitmore ~~ Brian Reinhart