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CD Review

Seattle Symphony Media

Seattle Symphony/Ludovic Morlot
Seattle Symphony Media SSM006 67:45
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Ludovic Morlot inherited a great orchestra from Gerard Schwarz and has shown a commitment to diverse programming, both on disc and in the concert hall. While his efforts are laudable, I find him less interesting in commonly recorded works. Unfortunately, the "New World" certainly falls in that category. Despite some truly outstanding playing, the conducting fails to distinguish itself.

The luminous winds and soaring strings are to be commended, and the generally fine – and always assertive – brass make this a joy to listen to on technical grounds alone. Details emerge in the strings that I generally miss elsewhere, and the first-chair playing is uniformly exceptional. The highlight of this performance is a well-shaped Largo and a nicely built Finale. Conversely, the Scherzo is somewhat tepid, and the first movement lacks cogency. In the latter especially, great playing fails to redeem less than natural phrasing from the podium. In the former, the speed is superficially exciting. However, there is a certain character that proves noticeably absent in the winds and strings. I compared over half a dozen versions, all in stereo sound with great orchestras. Morlot was one of the blandest, and least incisive.

What this performance ultimately fails to do is to convince you of its greatness. Fine as the Finale is, the playing isn't something that makes you sit up and listen. Morlot hurries along, catching details here and there but never really capturing the spirit of the music. Even Karajan in Vienna proves more engrossing, though he's not exactly winning awards for rustic charm or Czech fervor. The sound is a touch light in the bass, the climaxes are well-caught without being too thrilling. Despite the promise here, and loud applause at the end, I find myself unconvinced.

The coupling is better. Morlot has absolutely no problem with the weird sound world that Varèse conjures for Amériques. The harps and percussion sound terrific, and the whole orchestra has a certain personality that was nowhere to be found in the Dvořák. The program has an interesting premise, though God knows it's been done to death, especially with the Symphony. Whether you want to support the orchestra for a fine reading of the coupling is entirely up to you, but I can't help but be slightly disappointed overall.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman