Produced in-house by the Seattle Symphony and distributed by Naxos, this series of live recordings under Ludovic Morlot promises to be interesting and diverse. This disc is one of three programs in the initial batch of releases. It is also the most familiar to audiences, but even here, the choice of repertoire is audacious. The Ravel works certainly don't lack for choice, and the Saint-Saëns is surprisingly difficult to pull off well. Save for one small concern, the results are outstanding.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first. The organ at the end of the Symphony #3 could use a little more presence. This sounds like nitpicking, but if you can't hear the instrument a work is named for at the climax, it's a bit of a letdown. It's a shame, because Ludovic Morlot absolutely has the measure of the piece everywhere else. Like Paray and Munch before him, the young French conductor realizes effectively that the piece really needs to do two things; it has to move along without dragging, and it needs exceptional clarity within sections. Benaroya Hall is clearly a world-class concert hall, and the Seattle Symphony responds with commitment and alacrity. The near silent crowd goes nuts at the end – honestly, if you can't get applause at the end of this work, you need a new job – and the performance crackles with a sense of occasion. Joseph Adam plays well. I don't see this as something to take to a desert island, but it is far above most renditions I've heard.
Now for the better news. If the Saint-Saëns is good, the Ravel is excellent. Fully attuned to the atmosphere and color of these oft-played works, Morlot cultivates a genuine French sound from the charges he's led since 2011. Again, Paul Paray comes to mind; a fine conductor in near ideal sonic conditions leading an American orchestra in great Ravel. The Seattle Symphony has always played this music well, and it's wonderful to see them take the reins and make a major statement under their new leadership. I look forward to more. If only those last few bars had more organ!
Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman