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CD Review

Mephisto & Co.

Minnesota Orchestra/Eiji Oue
Reference Recordings RR-82
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This is an intriguing concept; nine pieces with a hellish subtext on one disc. It's mostly successful, but it could have been wholeheartedly recommended were it not for a few minor issues. As always from this source, sound quality is incredible. The dynamic range is huge and all sorts of wonderful little details come out that you never knew were there. The orchestra, one of the most underrated in America, plays stupendously. And yet, the project falls just short of its promise.

Without question, Eiji Oue is a very fine conductor. Anyone who thinks Vänskä deserves all the credit for putting Minnesota on the musical map needs to look at what has been a stellar roster of talent over the years. Oue's outings on disc with the orchestra are all remarkably similar; great playing, great sound, great repertoire, repeat. And yet, every conductor has his weaknesses, and on evidence here, Oue is not much of a showman. In other words, he doesn't really "let go" in these orchestral blockbusters like one might hope. A pity because every selection on the disc is well thought out and executed. The program simply lacks fire in its belly, and it needs it.

This is especially an issue in the well known works like the Dukas and Mussorgsky. I suspect there are few readings of either piece that are so well recorded and played. But the Mussorgsky lacks the required menace and the Dukas suffers from some questionable tempo shifts. On the other hand, the Arnold is very fine, the Saint-Saëns gorgeously realized, and the Franck really is a welcome rarity and a fine piece. Additionally, having the Liadov on such a program is unexpected, while the Strauss is equally surprising but a great way to end the disc.

Simply put, we have here the difference between very good and great. Oue gets exactly what he wants from his excellent players, while the sound enhances everything considerably. If this diverse and well-done program appeals, by all means test your speakers with it. It could have been better, but what's here will satisfy.

Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman