All posts by Rad Bennett

About Rad Bennett

I've been writing about music and movies for over 50 years, having written for Washington's now defunct Evening Star newspaper and magazines Stereo Review, Audio, Schwann DVD Advance, The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Fi, and Sound and Vision. I'm currently Entertainment Editor for Sound Stage! Network on line. Originally from North Carolina, I've lived in West Virginia near Harpers Ferry for the past 30 years, after 20 years in the Washington, D. C. Metropolitan Area.

Disney’s “Moana” is a Polynesian Delight

Moana is set somewhere in the Polynesian Islands and is the ultimate animated film about girl power. Its heroine (Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is daughter of a tribal chief.  Things are not going well fro the tribe as a goddess is angry that one of the islands has been desecrated by the demigod Maui (playfully voiced by Dwayne Johnson. There are no fish to be caught and the people of Moana’s village, once mighty voyagers, are afraid to venture outside the reef that surrounds the island.  The ocean chooses Moana to find Maui and set things right, and her perseverance and upbeat personality help to achieve those goals. Maui has his own catharsis but in spite of the fact that he’s a real scene stealer, looking something like an animated version of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, it’s Moana’s journey that really counts. Humor and song are used to propel the plot in a delightful manner and there are just the right number of zany subsidiary characters to keep one interested.

 

The video and audio transfers on this Blu-ray disc are state of the art and then some. Animation techniques using computers have come a great way. Look at the detail in the elaborate hair designs of the main characters. Or the sand all over Moana when she is shipwrecked toward the middle of the movie. The Blu-ray faithfully conveys these details and every other, often creating astonishing scenes. Color plays a big part, too. The bright primary colors used literally seem to jump off the screen and into one’s consciousness and the softer, psychedelic hues used for spiritual oceanic scenes add mystery and intrigue. Overall the video on this Blu-ray is of demonstration caliber. The dts 7.1 sound is also  magnificent, exemplary in reproducing music, dialogue, and sound effects. There are also plenty of entertaining extras on board, including the riotous short film Inner Workings.

 

“The Light Between Oceans” Harbors a near fatal Technical Flaw

Through its Touchstone outlet, Disney has released a film by director Derek Cianfrance that misses the total mark but has great enough great performances that it’s well worth seeing – once.  Set on an remote island off the coast of Australia (the real island is off the coast of New Zealand), it tells the story Tom Sherbourne, a World War I veteran (Michael Fassbender) who takes and assignment as a light house keeper. The island can only be reached by boat and Sherbourne spends months between food and supply deliveries. But this is just fine with him as he has post war PTS issues to work out. He marries a local woman, Isabel (the radiant Alicia Vikander) and they try twice to have a child, both resulting in miscarriages. Shortly after the second tragedy, a small open boat drifts to the island containing a dead man and a baby.

Isabel convinces Tom to bury the body and keep the child. Things go well for several years but they eventually run into the real mother on the mainland and Tom’s guilt forces him to confess, with predictably intense and dire circumstances. The whole thing is overcooked and manipulative but Fassbender’s performance is a marvel of subtlety and a sea of the obvious. He proves again that he is one of our most reliable and convincing actors. You might forget the rest, but you’ll remember Tom.

The video from the Blu-ray disc is impeccable and the wind swept vistas are thrilling in their scope and detail. The audio is another thing. There’s so much wind and so many waves on the soundtrack that the dialog gets lost in the mix. There are hard-of-hearing subtitles, and I confess to turning them on so I wouldn’t miss an important word here or there. Among the extras is an interesting piece on the actually lighthouse used in the movie. Overall, The Light Between Oceans is a good date night rental (it’s rated PG-13 so no kiddies) but it’s doubtful you’ll want to see it twice.

 

New Audio Releases for the Holidays 2016-3

I’ve written previously of a delightful album organist E Power Biggs made for CBS called Music for a Merry Christmas, as available in a transfer from High Definition Tape Transfers (HDTT). This year HDTT has a second Biggs album called What Child Is This? and it’s as much of a charmer as the first.  On this program Biggs plays in partner ship with the men of the Gregg Smith Singers, the Texas Boys Choir of Fort Worth, and the New York Brass and Percussion Ensemble. Gregg Smith conducts. When the boys sing with the men they in a sense make up an SATB choir.

The sound is crisp and clear with wide stereo separation. Though there are exceptions, the boys are usually  in the left channel, the men in the right and the organ in the center. The percussion pop up all over the place. Though this recording is still available on CBS LP and Sony CD, HDTT has done an astonishingly good transfer of it, making it available in a wide variety of download formats as well as discs. The sound is so impressive that I’d go with their edition in spite of the extra cost. There’s alas no info on the organ used. It’s not one of those huge monsters with lots of subwoofer bass, but a brightly chirping instrument that has ultra bubbly, clean sound. Probably a Flentrop or something like that.

 

New Audio Releases for the Holidays 2016-2

There are always abundant choral holiday albums each and every year and many of them are excellent, but this year one towers over all the others. That one is Carolae – Music for Christmas , performed by the Westminster Williamson Voices chorus of Princeton, NJ, conducted by James Jordan with Daryl Robinson on organ, along with brass, percussion and other instrumental forces. There are some lovely arrangements here and a concluding Toccata on Vom Himkmel Hoch for solo organ written by Garth Edmundson that positively sizzles, but the main interest is Missa carolae by award winning composer James Whitbourn. The Six-movement work is interspersed with other arrangements and uses familiar carols in ways one might not expect but sound absolutely appropriate. Using drums and other

percussion, Whitbourn turns many a well known tune into an exciting processional – drum carols on steroids. The overall result is appealing, urgent, uplifting, and downright thrilling. Every single one of the singers and instrumentalists give their all. Eacn seems to be a virtuoso but is able to fit inconspicuously into a solid ensemble. The recording is a marvel. Every detail is easily heard and the tuttis, with their subwoofer friendly bass will lift you to the heights! Honest. The CD is offered at bargain rates by using the link above. Click that and bring some real majesty into your holiday listening.

 

New Audio Releases for the Holidays 2016-1

There don’t seem to be quite as many new instrumental albums for the holidays as usual, but there are a couple of really good ones. The first is on the Naxos label and features the English brass ensemble, Septura. The album’s title is Christmas with Septura, and it contains a generous 22 tracks. Septura has a rich and robust sound and is made up of seven musicians – 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, and tuba. Notably no French horns. Much of the music is arranged from Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, but  there

christmas-with-septura

are some familiar carols as well – “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” and “Silent Night” among them. The mix between slower,  sonorous tunes and fleet, virtuoso ones seems ideal and the recorded sound is just right to give one detail with an abundance of warmth.

The second CD comes from the ATMA Classique label and features the Canadian chamber orchestra, Les Violons du Roy conducted by Bernard Labadie in a program called Simphonies des Noel. It is actually a re-release of Labadie’s first album for ATMA Classique. Les Violons du Roy is based in Quebec City and specializes in correctly informed performances of music from the Baroque Era.

symphonies-de-noel-labide

The musicians give spirited dance-like readings of the two “Christmas Concertos” by Giuseppe Torelli and Arcangelo Corelli which relate more closely to the story of shepherds keeping watch than do other performances. Trraveling from Italy to France, Labadie leads idiomatic and appealing performances of Christmas music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, stopping by Germany to play some fine Nativity music by Fux. The recording is superb – sounding exactly as a small orchestra of strings with two recorders added should sound. The  tuttis are exceptionally clear. It’s really good to have this delightful one back!