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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Fantasia on Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) [15.36]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925) Gymnopédie 1 [2.48]; Gymnopédie 3 [3.17]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981) Adagio for strings, Op.11 [7.28]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) Pavane, Op.50 (1887) [5.42]
Percy GRAINGER (1882–1961) Irish Tune from County Derry (Danny Boy) [6.11]
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin.
rec. Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis, Missouri, 27-28 March 1981. DDD.
TELARC CD-80059 [41.42]


To my knowledge this is at least the third issue of many of these recordings. First issued on CD shortly after being recorded, they were reissued in SACD format in 2004 when John Phillips favourably reviewed the disc (see review). Here they revert to their original non-SACD CD format.

I have nothing particularly against this disc, save the short playing time, as there is indeed much to enjoy here. The mix of repertoire is interesting and all of the performances are perfectly decent in themselves. The liner notes, though brief, are serviceable.

Although Slatkin has never struck me as a conductor of great profundities either in concert or on record, he is at least musically sensitive in his approach. All the performances here demonstrate that fact eloquently and one senses that the St. Louis forces play with conviction for him throughout this orchestral pot-pourri. Indeed there are times when one becomes acutely aware that they do more than this – in the Fauré particularly, where a certain understatement is the watchword. At the start of the disc in the Vaughan Williams one is immediately aware of the tonal richness with which the strings are recorded. That a slight atmospheric bloom is given to the sound by the acoustic of the Powell Symphony Hall helps matters immensely. 

Despite this at other points in the programme something could possibly be felt to be lacking. Slatkin’s Barber chooses not to plumb the emotional depths that Bernstien’s does, nor does his Grainger quite have the sheer elegance that John Eliot Gardiner brings to his reading. However, as I suggested earlier these things are small in themselves and the impact upon enjoying the disc small overall. Anyone wanting to hear the textural qualities of the orchestra and the idiomatic ear of the conductor at their best should hear their readings of two Gymnopédies, given in Debussy’s orchestrations. The first holds a dangerously slow tempo well to create a canvas that hardly moves; the third gives priority of some sensuousness to harp, winds and discreet brass playing.

Recommended for anyone wanting this mixed programme.

Evan Dickerson


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