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CD Review

Russian Showpieces

National Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlos Païta
* The Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Carlos Païta
Lodia LO-CD780
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I have already written extensively about Argentinean-born conductor Carlos Païta in these pages, and this is the fifth Lodia title that I have reviewed so far. As Albany Music has done collectors the favor of releasing these discs, it has been my pleasure to review them and share my thoughts with all of you. So far, I find his artistic temperament served him best in the Romantic and Nationalist repertoires, and so this particular album would seem well suited for his strengths. The answer is yes, but also no.

Pictures is well played by the National Symphony, and while I'm not sure if this is the same orchestra who would later record the piece on RCA with Leonard Slatkin, they certainly seem to be confident with the score. Païta always got great results from the woodwinds, and that's a good thing in this work. Overall though, this colorful score requires a bit more collective firepower than either orchestra or conductor is willing to provide. Turn to Reiner, Ormandy, and Szell for classic accounts with world-class musicians. I'm noticing that as fiery as he was claimed to have been on the podium, Païta could occasionally sound a touch matter-of-fact, and despite some nice touches here and there, the various pictures aren't painted all that well. It's too literal. That is until everyone wakes up at the end and delivers two excellent final movements.

I haven't been a fan of the conductor's own "Philharmonic Symphony" forces, either, but the Borodin turns out to be the loveliest item on the disc. Whereas I found the Mussorgsky to be lacking, In the Steppes of Central Asia is full of color and delicate shadings. It may not be the best out there, but it shows the conductor in a different light than I had heard previously. Those gorgeous winds are still here, but the recording picks up great detail in the strings as well, and everyone is on their best behavior. Even the weird brass sound that the conductor seemed very much to enjoy works as a positive. Besides, there isn't a ton of brass anyways, so no matter how you feel about it, you can count this as a wonderful performance.

The disc isn't especially long, and closes with the familiar Glinka overture. It's a brisk reading, under five minutes in fact, but it sounds slower than it is because the playing is at times less incisive than it needs to be. The brass ring out confidently, and the speed alone should promise an exciting reading, but it falls short of the best all the same. It might just be that Païta couldn't get the last drop of energy from these players, but whatever the case the overture is still well done. It just isn't the thrill ride it should be at this speed, and that's a shame. The whole program feels like that, really fun and played well, while also not being as special as you had hoped.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman