Here's another live recording from Maestro Ludovic Morlot and Seattle Symphony, this one covering several twentieth-century American works.
Morlot begins with the Second Symphony of Charles Ives (1874-1954). A lot of listeners have concerns with Ives's music, and I have to admit that I can take it or leave it. However, it always amuses me to listen to it because Ives often makes these things a game of "Name That Tune," with his references to so many bits and pieces from other composers. The Second Symphony is no different, quoting snippets of "Turkey in the Straw," "Long, Long Ago," "Camptown Races," "America the Beautiful," "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean," and this and that from Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, among others.
Ives wrote his Symphony No. 2 early in his career, somewhere between 1897 and 1901, although it never saw a premiere performance until 1951 with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. Indeed, a fine DG recording Bernstein later made with his old New York orchestra has rather spoiled me these past few decades, with Bernstein seeming to make Ives more palatable than recordings from most other conductors. For that matter, though, several conductors I've heard have also impressed me, most notably Bernard Herrmann and Michael Tilson Thomas.
Anyway, the Second Symphony under Morlot is fine, too. As I say, this early Ives work is pretty easy to take compared to some of the more-raucous pieces he would later produce. The Second Symphony is full of sweetly flowing melodies, and Morlot does a decent job of maintaining the rapturous qualities of the tunes. The symphony is a little unusual in that it adds a fifth movement to the conventional four, a slow Lento Maestoso before the final Allegro. This tends to give it even more of a grand Romantic feel, although, to be fair, Morlot doesn't play up its sentimental attributes quite as much as Bernstein does. Listeners may find this a plus or a minus.
It's in the second movement that we get the greatest number of musical allusions, and Morlot seems to have a good time with them. However, the conductor's style may be a tad too straightforward to reveal the full joy of the music. Again, Bernstein seems a bit freer with his rhythms and a touch more lyrical. And so it goes, with the finale under Morlot adding a zesty conclusion to the affair.
Next up is a brief piece, a world-premiere recording of Instances by American composer and two-time Pulitzer Prizewinner Elliott Carter (1908-2012). It would be Carter's last completed work, and as such it is the most-modern in structure and sound. I didn't find it particularly to my liking, but others will no doubt enjoy its rhythmic vitality, its intriguingly colorful interludes, and its various percussive effects.
Dmitriy Lipay produced, engineered, and edited the album, which he and his team recorded live in concert at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington in June 2012 (Ives), February 2013 (Carter), and September 2011 (Gershwin). The live sound in the Ives work seems fairly distanced and spacious, the audience for the most part quiet. It presents a good concert-hall effect. The Carter piece appears closer up, the Gershwin in between. The only things that disrupt the effect of the music are the unwanted eruptions of applause that follow the first and third works on the disc. I mean, why go to all the trouble of keeping an audience as unobtrusive as possible throughout much of the music, only to have them disrupt our concentration at the end? Oh, well; otherwise, the sound is smooth and moderately well extended in terms of dynamics and frequency response in the closer-miked works, less so in the opening Ives piece.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: