PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 in B flat, Op. 100. The Year 1941, Op. 90. "
São Paulo Symphony Orch/Marin Alsop, cond.
NAXOS BLU RAY AUDIO NBD 0031 TT: 59:44
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BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14. Le corsaire Overture, Op. 21.
Orchestre National de Lyon/Leonard Slatkin, cond.
NAXOS BLU RAY AUDIO NBD 0029 TT: 70:25
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"3 D MUSIC ALBUM" 3D Music Album Demno 6.
Various artists
AIX RECORDS BLU RAY AUDIO AIX 86066 TT: 53 min.
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This Prokofiev Blu Ray Audio Disk is superb in every way. The São Paulo Symphony is Brazil's largest and most important orchestra. It has been around since 1954 and has its ups and downs, although now it now it prominent in the orchestral world and gives many concerts eachyear, in Brazil and internationally. For 24 ytears, Eleazqr de Carvalho was their director until his death in 1996. Unlike Veneuela's Simón Bolivar Orchestra, the São Paulo Symphony is not the product of a country education system. Marin Alsop, who has been praised for her work with the Baltimore Symphony and other orchestras, has a five-year contract as music director of the São Paulo Orchestra beginning this year, and this is their first recording. It couples Prokofiev's most popular symphony (aside from the "Classical") with the seldom heard suite of music The Year 1941, written in 1941 at the same time as his opera War and Peace. Criticized by Shostakovich, it was not successful, but it does contain some rousing music. The first movement is "a heated battle," and second a serene night interrupted by a conflict, and the third a triumphant hymn of victory. Both this and the symphony are superbly played by the excellent orchestra, and the recording, made in 2011 at the Sala Sãn Paulo in Brazil, is outstanding in capturing the warmth of the venue. Audio isn't particularly "surround" but it is ultra-clear and rich, with limited ambient sound from rear speakers. Although there could have been more of a "surround" effect, audiophiles will be delighted with this issue.

They will not he very happy with the other Blu Ray Audio Disk, the Berlioz collection with an anemic-sounding Lyon National Orchestra under the prosaic direction of Leonard Slatkin who is now their music director. Even the two final movements are tepid; the blazeing excitement in most other performandes is abscent.. The only plus here is an extra track of the alternate version of the second movement (Un bal) with the cornet obbligato, which Berliuoz added later and is played in many other recordings. Audio is wide-range but low-level, there is no richness to orchestral sound—thin strings, no bite to the brass no impact to percussion. And this is hardly surround sound; minimal sound is heard from rear speakers. Naxos has some superb recordings in their Blu Ray Audio series; this surely is not one of them.

I have great admiration for AIX Reords (although they persist in printing their name as AIH). They have the highest audio standards, and all of their reordings sound remarkably realistic. Their classical recordings are limited to solo or chamber performances; their only orchestral recording features the New Jersey Symphony conducted by Zdenek Macal in Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 and Respighi's Pines of Rome which has been issued on DVD video and surround sound. Unfortunately, these performances are of limited interest, and Macal is not an interesting conductor to watch—and the camera is on him much of the time. The rather dry acoustics of the venue doesn't help much. It would be intriguing indeed to have AIX record a performance by one of the great orchestras in an acoustically perfect concert hal. In the meantime, this DVD disk offers eight tracks of lighter music in excellent performances, recorded to perfection, both visually and aurally. The 3D effect is as natural as could be and perfectly focused, a pleasure to watch. There is a separate track with Dr. Mark Waldrep, founder of the label, talking about their approach to music in a most convincing way. When watching the musial program, each item is visually introduced on screen except that it is only for a brief moment, very difficult to read as there are green/yellow images flashing in the background. Programming the disk also can be a bit confusing. When setting up the audio, one has the option of either 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo, but both are highlighted, one in red and one in blue; there should be a clearer way to program this, not highlight either until one is selected. Surround sound is available in either 5.l or 7.1, and you have the choice of "stage mix" or "audience mix." This is a premium-priced issue and playing time is only 53 minutes including the spoken introduction—but this is remarkable viewing and listening.

R.E.B. (September 2012)

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