What an odd assortment of familiar and unknown selections! Perhaps the most interesting is Hugo Wolf's own chamber orchestra version of the beloved Italian Serenade. The transcription is brilliant and refreshing to hear after a lifetime of acquaintance with the string quartet instrumentation, though it is odd to hear wind instruments in this music. Alas, Orpheus takes it all far too seriously. That approach, however, works exceptionally well for Dvořák's dark, brooding, and oddly chromatic Nocturno. The selections for strings alone (Dvořák, Turina, and Puccini) seem to have been recorded with a completely different microphone set-up, as they sound warmer and richer than the remainder of the disc.
The Turina, Puccini, and Sibelius scores are given brilliant and exciting readings, although the thrice-familiar Valse triste comes off sounding woefully underpowered compared to any full orchestra recording. Both violin soloist Guillermo Figueroa and his Orpheus colleagues deserve extra credit for their attempt to breathe life into the turgid Rêverie & Caprice by Berlioz.
The playing in the Siegfried Idyll is superb. The Orpheus strings are at their loveliest, and the oboe solos are meltingly beautiful, as are the horn, flute and clarinet. Unfortunately, these individual efforts are not enough for an effective performance of Wagner's gentle masterpiece. Although the piece itself is episodic in nature, conductors from Walter to Glenn Gould have managed to give the Idyll more shape, focus and emotional impact. Alas, Orpheus has neither the aching sensuousness of Gould's tantalizingly languorous performance nor the ethereal beauty and dramatic intensity of Walter's ancient New York Philharmonic LP (which ought to be reissued by Sony at the first opportunity). To make matters worse this new recording sounds clinical, with wiry and unblended violins.
If this program appeals to you and you enjoy other recordings by Orpheus, then by all means don't hesitate to snap this up. But if you're looking for the best available recording of the Idyll, go for the Gould on Sony 46279.
Copyright © 1995, Thomas Godell.
This review originally appeared in the American Record Guide