Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah (2000)
5.1 Entertainment

Initially planned as some of the first DVD audio releases, 5.1 Entertainment had to change their plans recently to release a number of titles they had acquired as part of the "Silverline" label. Since the release of DVD Audio into the market was held up unexpectedly due to a number of reasons, music publisher 5.1 Entertainment decided to withhold a potential DVD Audio version of the release and publish the titles as DVD Video releases for the time being. Just to avoid confusion here with the terms used, "DVD Audio" is a proposed new standard for multi-channel music that is expected to replace the current Audio CD. It is of much higher quality than the current CD generation and also offers additional features, such as multi-channel surround sound, as well as minimalist video content. "DVD Video" however, is the DVD format we have been using so far. Although it is also featuring surround sound, the focus on this format is on the video presentation in the first place. DVD Audio and DVD Video formats are not the same and are compatible only one a limited subset of each others’ capabilities.

With that in mind, I have been able to take a look at 5.1 Entertainment’s first release of what should have been a DVD Audio release and was changed to a DVD Video release. "Handel’s Messiah" is a recording of the oratorio from the London Symphony Orchestra featuring 13 highlights from Handel’s extensive "Messiah" pastoral. It is a beautiful recording that has a lot of life and comes across as very natural due to the large number of choir pieces that are part of it.

The DVD contains two separate audio tracks. The first one is a great <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> presentation and the second track features a <$DTS,DTS> version of the music. Both tracks are of the highest quality you can imagine, making the best out of both formats. Since Dolby Digital and DTS use different encoding schemes to compress the data required for their presentations, the results vary slightly in terms of their sonic reproduction. While both versions are of excellent quality, the DTS version reveals some added clarity in the reproduction of the orchestra and most notably the choirs. Given then subtle nuances of the human voice, as well as those of the instruments in a full size orchestra, the DTS version manages to create a sonic image that is absolutely faithful to the real sound of an orchestra. It is for releases like this one that DTS shows its true strengths, reproducing every nuance, every breath and even the most subtle changes in timbre and tone with staggering clarity.
The recording features a wide and natural frequency response that engages the low frequency channel carefully and tastefully to reproduce the full "body" of the orchestra. On the other end of the sonic spectrum you will find crystal clear high ends with a very natural sounding reproduction of all instruments and voices.

The DVD comes as a <$RSDL,dual layer> DVD to ensure maximum storage capacity for the release. Since only very limited video information is part of this release, the bandwidth can be exhausted practically in its entirety for the audio throughput. Hardly surprising both, the Dolby Digital and the DTS track use the maximum bitrate possible to ensure an absolutely unperturbed presentation.

Upon insertion of the disc it is quickly obvious that this release behaves more like a traditional Audio CD than a DVD Video. Immediately after inserting the disc, the music begins to play without entering a menu or the like, without requiring the user to take any further steps. That way you can use the DVD as a simple music recording the way you would play back an audio CD. If you wish, you can turn on your TV set and watch a series of images that accompany the music. From the disc’s main menu you can select what sort of images you prefer from a predefined 5 sets. While some of these sets are simply decorative, some of them actually contain valuable historical information about Handle and his work. Some information about music DVD and speaker setup, including test signals for speaker calibration, are also accessible through the disc’s main menu.

For fans of classical music, this release clearly shows what we can expect from music in the future. With the developments in the technology, our listening experience will also change. Creating fully enveloping surround sound fields, multi-channel music releases like "Handel’s Messiah" have a vibrance and clarity no stereo recording could possibly match. The spatial integration, the ability to locate instruments in a 3 dimensional listening experience is impressive to say the least, and will surely stun any fan of music per se. This DVD gives us a first taste of how we will most likely listen to music in the future and quite frankly, I can’t wait for that future to begin. As soon as DVD Audio is available we will get to hear music in a richness, clarity and natural reproduction like never before, and the DVD version presented here in Dolby Digital and DTS gives us a good idea of what to expect. While a classical oratorio like "Messiah" may not be for everyone’s taste, this DVD proves that DVD can do more than just recreate staggering movies imagery and bombastic soundscapes, but also recreate highly refined natural recordings.