KHACHATURIAN: Spartacus Ballet
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Sinfonia Antartica
STRAUSS: Der Rosenkavalier
Nothing could be more different from the athletic energy of Spartacus than the meditative Moon Water performed by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. "Energy flows as water, while the spirit shines as the moon" is the ideal state Tai Chi choreographer Lin Hwai-min has used as a point of departure for what is seen on this DVD. Tai Chi is a martial arts exercise practiced by young and old, usually in early morning. By silently performing a special sequence of slow-motion movements and simple breathing exercises one is training mind and body. Water and the moon figure importantly in Moon Water (on occasion there's a light layer of water on the stage) as dancers, usually solo or in small groups, perform to nine slow movements from Bach's six cello suites in the DGG recording by Mischa Maisky. It's all quite beautiful and imaginative. The scene is generally dark with images of the distant moon, all dancers dressed similarly. The performance is 65 minutes. The three "behind the scenes" features ("Teaching the Cloud Gate dancers," "Tai Chi" and "Moon Water") take 20. The "surround sound" is supposedly there, but all we here is one solo cello the sound of which is mostly up front.
The DVD called Sinfonia Antartica is difficult to pigeon-hole. Just what is it? A musical performance, a documentary, a travelogue? What is its purpose? What we have is a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 7, called Sinfonia Antartica, which began life as background music composed in 1947 for the film Scott of the Antarctic. Two years later the composer used much of this music in his Symphony No. 7, widely recognized as one of his finest works. This performance by the New Zealand Orchestra is effective in its own way but there are many other finer recordings. What this one offers is a powerful visual element—as you hear the music you see varied films of snow, ice, icebergs, vast expanses of frozen tundra, explorers, penguins, underwater exploration scenes, and sea storms, all quite imaginatively put together combining black and white vintage film with new color footage. The DVD also includes Icebound, a 52-minute documentary of Antarctic exploration including rare films and images; and The Unframed Continent, an "artistic odyssey" around Antartica with the work of two poets and a painter. And that's not all; we also have a travel guide to the Antarctic, "Reflections on Antarctica" with Join Baden Norris, Antarctic Curator at Canterbury Museum, New Zealand, and another section on "Antarctic Facts." There's lots of information here imaginativey presented. This DVD costs about half as much as most DVD videos.
The DVD of Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, recorded during a performance at the Vienna State Opera in March 1994, is very special. It's a production of UNITEL Film- und Fernsehproduktiongesellschaft mbH & Co., Munich, with producer Hermann Enkemeier who, aside from occasional ill-advised focusing on the wrong characters—or not enough of them—has done an admirable job. The true "star" here is the elusive conductor Carlos Kleiber making one of his limited appearances. The respect Vienna audiences have for him is obvious from the huge ovation he receives at the beginning of each of the three acts—although, surprisingly, curtain calls are not included—the film cuts off rather abruptly after the final notes. The Vienna Philharmonic plays magnificently, and the cast is uniformly strong. I would prefer someone other than Barbara Bonney as Sophie, but she surely handles all those stratospheric notes very well. The Marschallin is one of Felicity Lott's most famous roles, and Anne Sofie Von Otter is splendid as Octavian. Sound is well-balanced stereo and generally very good although the orchestral opening of Act I is rather harsh. Menu languages are English and Chinese (!), with subtitles in German, English, French and Chinese. There are no "special features."
R.E.B. (January 2004)