Robert Spano will be a relatively unfamiliar name to collectors in Britain and Europe - although he has appeared at Covent Garden, WNO and in Birmingham. In the United States (Spano's home country) he is much better known and has been tipped for high office by many stateside pundits. Music Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic since 1996, his appointment as Chief Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony (with whom this is his first recording) was warmly welcomed by those who had witnessed his tireless and enthusiastic work in New York. With such credentials it is, therefore, rather puzzling to have to report that Spano's CD of two Rimsky favourites is a great disappointment.
Telarc's DSD recording is predictably fine, but these performances resolutely fail to catch fire. There is throughout a feeling of caution which may come from Spano himself or may be the result of the 'first time out' effect of this first recording. Certainly the fine ensemble and cohesive sound achieved by the orchestra under its previous chief, Yoel Levi, is hardly in evidence here.
With the exception of the excellent Concert Master, Cecylia Arzewski, whose violin solos are uncommonly fine, the solo playing rarely rises above the routine. Particularly disappointing are the (un-named) cellist in the second movement, and the clarinettist in the third, whose runs are anything but sensuous. The flute is little better.
Spano is very intercessionist in this music, which
is perhaps somewhat unwise. The unsteady tempos in the first movement
tend to take the music off the tracks and only after about eight minutes
into the last movement does the performance begin to take wing. By then
it is all too late.
The Russian Easter Overture (Telarc/Atlanta prefer to leave out the word Festival normally included in the title) is really no better with the arrival of the cross-rhythmic section at 4:38 very lacklustre.
A CD, therefore, to avoid. But one should definitely keep an open mind about this new partnership. First recordings are notoriously difficult and on many occasions the second is incomparably better. Let's hope it will prove true in this instance.
Beecham at mid price on EMI still holds at least one
of the palms.