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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 12
The perfect team: Conductor, Orchestra, Engineer
Arts & Entertainment
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The perfect team: Conductor, Orchestra, Engineer

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

SEATTLE SYMPHONY CD
IVES:
SYMPHONY NO. 2
CARTER: INSTANCES
GERSHWIN:
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS


The works on this CD were recorded in 2011, 2012 and 2013. I may be totally off base, but I think one can actually hear the learning curve of talented recording engineer, Dmitriy Lipay, in the progressively better sound as you move from the Gershwin An American in Paris, through the Ives Symphony No. 2, to the Carter Instances. I'm not implying that Lipay didn't know his stuff when he recorded the Gershwin. For one thing, it's not a bad recording. It's just that, as he became more and more familiar with Benaroya Hall (the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, to be precise), he seemed to find better placements for the many microphones he used. The results, I suggest, take us from a decent recording (the Gershwin) to the much better sound of the Ives, until we achieve truly brilliant clarity on the Carter.

I note this difference in sound quality because it emphatically influences the amount of joy one can derive from the music itself. For instance, the Gershwin lacks impact, compared to the live rehearsal I heard at Benaroya Hall, because the instruments sound slightly mashed together and lack individuality. Perhaps the mikes were too distant. Even David Gordon's jazzy trumpet is too laid back in the total wash of sound. In the Elliott Carter piece, just the opposite is true: everything is crystal clear, and the individual instruments jump out at you with thrilling impact. I grant that the Gershwin is much more complex in its orchestral sound, but a great recording should be able to handle that complexity with no loss of clarity.

As for the music itself, this disc could hardly be more interesting. Excellent program notes by Paul Schiavo lend perspective to each work and its place in the modern repertoire. I confess I have not previously been a fan of Carter's work, but this lovingly precise and energetic performance of his Instances has turned my head. The orchestral writing is brilliant and exciting. Carter completed this work at age 103 and dedicated it to Seattle Symphony's Music Director Ludovic Morlot, 'who has performed many of my works so beautifully.' I find it fresh, intriguing at every turn, and downright fun. The masterful recording even surpasses the aural excitement one could experience in Benaroya Hall. I want more Carter works captured so vividly by this team of Morlot, the SSO, and recording engineer Lipay.

Compared to the transparent orchestration of the Carter, Ives' Symphony No. 2 is much more conventional in its orchestral pallet. It is also written for an audience prepared for a leisurely, rather romantic symphony of more than a half hour's duration; whereas the Carter asks for your attention for less than eight minutes! Ives wrote a mostly melodic piece that included many quotes from both popular and folk music, but also from the classical repertoire, including Brahms' Symphony No. 3 and even Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Juxtapositions of these quotes are sometimes abrupt and startling, and elsewhere so skillfully woven into the overall texture as to be almost hidden. The results are often humorous. Morlot's command of Ives' language is complete and affectionate, and the Orchestra responds with articulate ease.

An American in Paris is, of course, a modern classic and deservedly popular. Morlot and his players miss none of its brilliance and buoyant fun. In the rehearsal I witnessed, the Orchestra progressed from an initial sight reading, through a second run-through with pauses for suggestions from Morlot, to an almost finished performance that was nearly as articulate as the live one we hear on this CD. This rehearsal was during the first weeks of Morlot's new post as Music Director. Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly his technical and interpretive skills. The piece initially sounded generic, lacking punch and vitality. Every comment Morlot gave his players produced immediate results, each of which lent the performance life and meaning. The live recording from performances later that week shows us the delightful results, even if it lacks the ultimate clarity and impact of the Elliott Carter recording.

This CD is one of a series of exciting new recordings on the Seattle Symphony Media label and is available from all the usual outlets. For more information on this series, visit seattlesymphony.org.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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