LUTOSLAWSKI: Concerto for Orchestra. RESPIGHI: Feste Romane. STRAUSS: Don Juan. Oregon Symphony, James DePreist conducting. Delos D/CD-3070 (CD).
RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27; Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14; Etude-Tableau "La Mer et les Mouettes," Op. 39, No. 2 (orch Respighi). Oregon Symphony, James DePreist conducting. Delos D/CD-3071 (CD).Orchestral excellence outside this country's major music centers? As Horatio said to Hamlet, "There needs no ghost come from the grave to tell us this," especially in Utah. Nor should Utahns be unfamiliar with the excellence of conductor James DePreist, not after his superlative performances here in 1978 of the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony and, in 1986, of the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra.
Now here they both are, with his own Oregon Symphony, on the above-listed Delos CDs. And if the Oregonians sound a bit less accomplished than I remember the Utah Symphony being under the same conductor, it is only a bit. Indeed, their work on the first of these releases (appropriately entitled "Bravura") is remarkably fine given the demands of the music, not to mention the severity of the competition.
Which is to say this latest edition of the Lutoslawski may be less virtuosic per se than the Chicago Symphony's under Seiji Ozawa (EMI, now sadly out of print). But the difference is not as great as might be imagined, in addition to which I find DePreist's interpretation more than a match for Ozawa's (e.g., his more forceful view of the Intrada).
Similarly this "Feste" is, not unexpectedly, less brilliant than Muti's or, from a purely sonic standpoint, Dutoit's. Still, I find myself liking its depth and resonance (the organ really registers) as well as DePreist's illumination of a number of oft-slighted aspects of the scoring. If you are into the music's more vulgar side, however, you won't be disappointed by the finale, in which the Epiphany song takes off like a giant hurdy-gurdy in 3/4 time.
Even better is the "Don Juan," long on sweep, poetry and drama - an interpretation of real distinction, not at all hurt by the warmth and solidity of the recorded sound.
Much the same might be said of the Rachmaninoff disc. Except that, especially in the Symphony, there are times when both the players and the engineers seem to be holding back where one would expect the flames to really ignite (e.g. the smoldering first-movement climax). Also, one occasionally misses the last ounce of security in the trickier pages of the scherzo and the finale.
Otherwise this performance may lack the idiomatic intensity of Ashkenazy's and the cultivation of Previn's, but it nonetheless builds pretty convincingly on its own - basically a Philadelphia conception (including a few cuts) but with its own brand of suavely burnished power. That same intelligence informs DePreist's readings of the two fillers, a "Vocalise" whose string sound keeps it just out of the top rank and Respighi's rescoring of the second of the Op. 39 Etudes-Tableaux, here realized in commendably ungarish fashion.
I suspect there are those who would have traded either for an uncut performance of the Symphony. Taken as whole, however, these two recordings - the Oregon Symphony's first - make for an auspicious enough debut to make one hope they won't be its last.
BERLIOZ: Le Corsaire, Op. 21; Excerpts from "Benvenuto Cellini," "La Damnation de Faust," "Romeo et Juliet," "Les Troyens." DE LISLE-BERLIOZ: La Marseillaise. Sylvia McNair, soprano; Richard Leech, tenor; Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, David Zinman conducting. Telarc CD-80164 (CD).
BERLIOZ: Le Carnival Romain, Op. 9; March to the Scaffold from "Symphonie Fantastique." CHABRIER: Espana; Marche Joyeuse. DE LISLE-BERLIOZ: La Marseillaise. DUKAS: L'Apprenti Sorcier. RAVEL: Pavane pour une Infante Defunte. SAINT-SAENS: French Military March from "Suite Algerienne." Claudine Carlson, soprano; Vinson Cole, tenor; Denver Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Philippe Entremont conducting. Pro Arte CDD-410 (CD).
I was tempted to save this pairing for Bastille Day, given their twofold inclusion of Berlioz's all-out arrangement of the "Marseillaise" - surely no mere coincidence, as this year marks the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.
If that is what interests you, my recommendation is the Telarc recording, which not only has the better of it vis-a-vis the soloists but profits additionally from Telarc's more impactive recording of the chorus (the Denver contingent, by contrast, might almost be singing in another room) and the extra oomph Zinman brings to the proceedings.
On the whole, though, the performances on this all-Berlioz CD strike me as more efficient than inspired, the two overtures ("Corsaire" and "Cellini") lacking the buoyancy and zest of Davis and Munch and the "Troyens" and "Faust" excerpts (including a "Royal Hunt and Storm" with chorus) a long way from the magic of Beecham.
But efficient they are, testifying to the current high state of the Baltimore Symphony, which is more disciplined and responsive to Zinman in this repertoire than they were under Comissiona. This is first-class playing by any standard.
That, I fear, cannot be said of the Denver Symphony, whose playing in their "Vive la France" collection has spirit but not always a great deal of precision. Compare, for example, this "Roman Carnival" Overture with the same company's recording with Silverstein - hardly the last word, but better-disciplined than this. Exceptions are the Ravel "Pavane," slow but sweetly unpretentious, the Saint-Saens march and Entremont's fanciful "Sorcerer's Apprentice." Indeed, had everything been this flavorful, I'd have been tempted to join in the cheer - even before July 14.