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Category:    Home > Reviews > Classical Music > Opera > Ballet > Concert > Multi-Chanel Music > Dancing Across Borders (2010/First Run Features Blu-ray) + Wagner/Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg – Bayreuth Festival… (Opus Arte) + Braunfels/Die Vogel – LA Opera (ArtHaus) + R. Strauss/Elektra – Munc

Dancing Across Borders (2010/First Run Features Blu-ray) + Wagner/Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg – Bayreuth Festival… (Opus Arte) + Braunfels/Die Vogel – LA Opera (ArtHaus) + R. Strauss/Elektra – Muncher Philharmoniker (Opus Arte) + Flames Of Paradise – Bolshoi Ballet (Bel Air) + C. Thielmann/Wiener Philhamoniker: Beethoven – Sym. Nos 4, 5, & 6 (Unitel Classica/C Major/Naxos Blu-rays) + Leopold Stokowski – Beethoven – Sym. No. 7 (1958/Intermusic Blu-spec CD/Top Music International)


Picture: B- (Elektra: B)     Sound: B (Elektra: B+/Borders: B-)     Extras: C+ (Beethoven and Borders: B)     Main Programs: B (Wagner: C+/Vogel: B-)




PLEASE NOTE: The Stokowski Blu-spec Compact Disc is only available from our friends at Top Music International, will play on virtually all CD players and can be ordered at the link below.



Our latest round of Blu-rays from the performance arts world includes a remarkable documentary on a dancer who has become a top ballet star, a full ballet and more classical and opera entries.  We also take on our second-ever Blu-spec CD release (a CD manufactured with Blu-ray precision and the first classical title.



Ann Bass’ Dancing Across Borders (2010) tells the amazing story about a young man from Cambodia named Sokvannara “Sy” Sar.  He was a dancer there with a knack and talent for dancing, but not the training to do ballet.  Miss Bass saw the possibilities when in Angkor Wat and decided to back him.  Going to New York City, then Seattle and working with the best in the business, Sar grows into an amazing dancer and slowly become son the premiere dancers in the field with one-of-a-kind talents that allow him to shine.  At only 88 minutes, this is an amazing documentary of his rise and what he had to do to deal with the many changes involved, but I was pleasantly surprised and can see why it has received so many raves.


This is the first of two Blu-ray releases from longtime independent First Run Features and is also a solid performer.  Despite the use of several analog video and low definition digital video sources, the 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image is better than you might expect from a documentary.  Though the best HD footage can have some detail issues, I was surprised by the consistency of the image and its editing, while the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo mixes are almost on par with each other, but the sound editing is a plus and the 5.1 offers more sound and more of a soundfield than usual for such a program.  Extras include bonus performances of Sar on stage, stills and an on-camera interview with Bass.


Then we have the Naxos-distributed offerings of entire stage performances starting with a decent version of a piece I ma not a big fan of, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg from the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus from Opus Arte.  I though the singing and performances were good, but they could not lift the work above the material, though I do get the points, but it does not work for me which is a premiere of this lesser-seen work.  That is reason enough to see it at least once, but be awake.  Extras include the informative booklet on the work, Cast Profiles and a Making Of featurette.


Then comes Walter Braunfels’ The Birds aka Die Vogel from the LA Opera conducted by James Conlon, which I liked more than the last release, but still was not totally happy with.  In this case, two young men named Ratefreund and Hoffegut leave Athens, Greece to reconnect with nature among the birds far away from other people, but wherever they go, there they are.  They are both differently affected by the results in what is a character study.  For me, there are mixed results and some predictability, but I wonder how this would compare to a differently staged take.  Extras include the informative booklet on the work and trailers.


We have covered Richard Strauss’ Elektra before, but this Muncher Philharmoniker version is the first time we have any home video performance and it is the best performing Blu-ray on the list, which is nice since it has as good a performance as any release here.  Christian Thielemann (more on his later) conducted, Herbert Wernicke produced for the stage and Linda Watson solid in the title role.  Backed by a stunningly talented acting, vocal cast, this is an amazing version that is done with some visual minimalism, yet never seems small or empty.  If anything, it makes it more powerful as the performers take center stage every time and the result is amazing chemistry and synergy that brings the classic tale to life.  Very impressive!  Extras include the informative booklet on the work and a Making Of featurette.


Our other ballet title is Flames Of Paradise performed in by no less than the legendary Bolshoi Ballet.  Presented in two parts (at 103 minutes), it is a smooth, seamless presentation that plays very well and moves on just fine.  Nikolai Volkov & Vladimir Dmitriev created the original libretto, Alexander Belinsky & Alexei Ratmansky wrote the book and Boris Asafiev did the music for this classic tale of war and peace in France and beyond.  This follows the Blu-ray of the Bolshoi performing The Pharaoh’s Daughter (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and is another solid entry.  Trailers and a basic, informative booklet on the work are the only extras.


The final Blu-ray brings us back to the talented Christian Thielmann with The Wiener Philhamoniker performing a totally symphonic concert of Beethoven – Sym. Nos 4, 5, & 6.  These are rich performances of these all-time classics and will impress fans who know that not all performances of Ludwig Von are equal.  There is a real love, understanding and grasp of the master composer here and I really liked this disc.  Extras include the terrific Discovering Beethoven documentary in three hour-long parts, covering each symphony (!) that is reference quality and another informative booklet on the works.


All five titles feature 1080i 1.78 X1 digital High Definition images and DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mixes, save the DTS-MA 5.0 on Beethoven and they are all great recordings, though Elektra is the sonic standout that will impress home theater fans, Beethoven has more of a soundfield than you might expect and Paradise is uncompromised in its soundfield by recreating the aural space on stage.  None will disappoint sonically. All also have less motion blur than usual for these kinds of releases in this set, though Elektra once again is a cut above with even richer color and a more realized image throughout.


Our last title is the oldest, but far from the least.  Many know Leopold Stokowski for his work on the 1940 Disney classic Fantasia, which finally arrived on Blu-ray, more of which you can read about at this link:





Now, at the same time, the Top Music International/Intermusic label has issued his remarkable 1958 recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in its first-ever stereo release on CD and the accuracy of the Blu-spec CD’s mastering precision delivers a playback result that betrays the 53 year old recordings age.  Though it can show some of its age, this is an incredible release with solid sonic playback to rival any CD of a late 1950s music release.


For technophiles, here are the specs for how the disc was made:


The Project re-mastered by Povee Chan

32Bits/192kHz High Resolution Mastering

SADiE DSD Digital Precision

Mastering Monitor: Almarro M1A

Monitor Amplifier: Octave Jubliee Preamp

Power System: Isoclean Power Conditioning System

Mastered with Black Rhodium cables, Made in EnglandAudio

Plays On All CD Players

Made in Japan by Sony


The works he pulls off with amazing ease includes:


1) Poco sostenuto – Vivace (11:59)

2) Allegretto (10:18)

3) Presto – Assai meno presto (8:08)

4) Allegro con brio (7:17)


Stokowski was way ahead of his time and this is so good, it makes one want to hear more of his album releases and see what else he recorded.  This transfer plays back as PCM 2.0 16/44.1 Stereo, but does not have the ceiling you will find on many common CDs and is worthy of the many classical CDs and even SACDs Naxos and other companies have sent us in the genre over the years.  Though it would be too old to make multi-channel and an SA-CD may have revealed some flaws and age, this is the best classical CD I have heard in a good while and fans should definitely go out of their way for it.  A paper foldout with some information is included.



All these titles are now available.  To find out more about ordering this Stokowski release, start with this link, then go to the HOW TO ORDER tab on the left-hand side column:





The direct order link is:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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