Monday 9 February 2015

SACD Net Review: Spirit of the American Range



Such kind words from our friend at SACD NetThis is an unmissable SACD that I have no hesitation in recommending unreservedly.
 
Spirit of the American Range' is the title of the third 'themed' release on the PENTATONE label from Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony.
 
The first two – 'Music for a Time of War' Music for a Time of War - Kalmar and 'This England' Miles Davis: Nefertiti 4 – were outstanding not only for the quality of Kalmar's searching and idiomatic interpretations, the superb playing of the Oregon Symphony and the magnificent sound quality achieved by the engineers but also the imaginative choice of the music on these discs. In every respect this new release matches or exceeds the high standard of the earlier ones and it is also, without doubt, amongst the finest orchestral recordings I have heard for quite some time.
 
The three American composers represented here – Walter Piston (1894-1976), George Antheil (1900-1959) and Aaron Copland (1900-1990) – all studied in Paris in the 1920s and over many years became close colleagues in spite of their very different musical styles as illustrated by the three works on this SACD.
 
Piston's ballet 'The Incredible Flutist' was commissioned in 1938 by Arthur Fiedler for the Boston Pops Orchestra (not the Boston Symphony as stated in the liner notes) and the suite heard here that Piston arranged from the ballet has become his most widely known work. Kalmar and his orchestra give brilliant account of this attractive score, skilfully balancing the seductively melodic parts of the suite with the energetic rumbustuousness of the section entitled 'Arrival of the Circus and Circus March' in which the orchestral musicians shout and cheer before one of them brings it to an abrupt end with the bark of a dog.
 
Copland held Georges Antheil, his exact contemporary, in very high regard, describing him as “extremely talented”. Though Antheil is perhaps best known for his scandalous 'Ballet mécanique' performed at a disastrous Carnegie Hall concert in 1927, his short 'Jazz Symphony' given at the same concert is nowhere near as iconoclastic. Originally lavishly scored for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 3 saxophones, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, xylophone, glockenspiel, 2 banjos, drum set, steamboat whistle, 3 pianos and strings, it is performed here in the composer's revised version of 1955 for more modest forces. This exuberant work is a rapidly changing kaleidoscope of African-American jazz and ragtime with similarities to Milhaud's 'Le Boef sur le Toit' and even has obvious hints of Stravinsky's 'Le Sacre du Printemps'. The Oregon Symphony play this piece to the manner born, displaying crisp rhythmic attack throughout and sounding as if they are really enjoying themselves.
 
This disc is completed by a superb performance of Copland's 3rd Symphony – a work that has over the years established itself as a cornerstone of the American symphonic repertoire. Begun in 1944 and completed in 1946, following a commission from the Koussevitsky Foundation, it quickly became the most well-known American symphony and has been recorded many times notably by Leonard Bernstein (twice), Antal Dorati, Eduardo Mata and the composer himself, also twice. More recently it has received a very fine recording from Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra, but this PENTATONE disc is its first appearance on SACD.
 
Kalmar's interpretation eschews the magniloquence of Bernstein in the outer movements (much to the work's benefit, I believe). He gives the symphony a continuous sense of forward momentum without ever losing any of its breadth and eloquence. The Oregon Symphony play with commendable precision always maintaining the clarity of Copland's often complex contrapuntal writing and the powerful statements of the 'Fanfare for the Common Man' used in the finale are delivered with maximum impact from the rich Oregon brass and weighty percussion section. This is a version to set among the finest on disc.
 
As I have already indicated the DSD 5.0 multi-channel recording engineered by the Soundmirror team (John Newton, Blanton Alspaugh and Mark Donahue) is of the highest quality. It has a strikingly realistic presence and ideal instrumental clarity whilst also marvellously capturing the ambience of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall where these public performances were recorded in April 2013 (Piston and Antheil) and January 2014 (Copland). Audience presence is undetectable and there is no applause included.
 
This is an unmissable SACD that I have no hesitation in recommending unreservedly.