John ADAMS (b.1947)
The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for orchestra) [13:21]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.6 in B minor Pathetique [52:35]
The World Orchestra by East-West Music/Josep Vicent
COLUMNA MUSICA 1CM 0285 [65:56]
The World Orchestra is a youth orchestra comprising 77 musicians. Around half of the orchestra’s players are drawn from Spain and Portugal. The balance comes from Eastern Europe plus a sprinkling from other European countries, South America, South Africa and the USA. Originally inspired by the vision of the late Sir Robert Mayer, the orchestra renewed itself in 2008 under the management of East-West Music in conjunction with Youth and Music, Spain. I can’t really add much more to this because the lavish sleeve booklet is, I’m afraid, an example of classic Pidjin Inglish in places. According to the documentation the orchestra “presents its music on a different level, using it as a means to communicate ideas and as a platform to promote the solidarity of its young musicians”. Well, I have no idea what any of this means so I will just share my views on the musicianship, interpretation and sound quality and leave it at that.
Although it’s not made very clear in the booklet, I think that the two works included on the disc are taken from live concerts which could explain to some extend the very strange coupling. The Chairman Danceshas a genuine, hypnotic holdon the listener. It has the repetitive traits shared by the minimalist school as a whole but the music also contains enough contrast to engage the ear for its span of just over 13 minutes. If you like the same composer’s Short Ride on a Fast Machine (as I do) then you will also warm to this. The orchestration is masterly and the performance is extremely good with lots of energy and enthusiasm. The recording is bright and dynamic, which suits the music to perfection.
There are numerous high quality accounts of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique on the market to choose from and it saddens me to be so dismissive about this recording by such a talented young orchestra but I have to admit that I found it very difficult to listen to. The playing standard is admirable rather than outstanding. There are lapses in intonation here and there, for example at the end of the descending woodwind passage just before the cataclysmic central section of the first movement. There is also the occasional habit, mainly from the strings, of rushing ahead slightly as the players get excited. However, none of this is too destructive and it isn’t the fundamental problem. For me the problems are twofold. The first of these is the recorded sound which becomes uncomfortable and congested in loud passages. There is also the presence of a strange, artificial sounding ambience which makes the string quality come over as thin and scrawny. The brass section can also become overbearing and raucous in loud passages. I have no idea whether this is what the orchestra actually sounds like but I doubt it very much. It’s either the microphone placement or the hall acoustics that are the problem but the bottom line is that it’s not particularly pleasant to listen to and it soon becomes tiring on the ear. The second issue relates to the first movement. Here are the timings from other versions I took from my shelves at random: Horenstein 19:03; Munch 18:11; Barbirolli 18:10; Markevitch 18:37; Litton 18:52. My favourite recorded version is by Markevitch and quite clearly the going rate for the first movement would appear to be a little over the 18 minute mark. The World Orchestra under Vicent clocks in at a staggering 21:32 and it simply doesn’t work. The great string tune is pulled around and delivered at such a slow tempo that it loses its shape and becomes a bore. This level of self-indulgence would be just about acceptable in the concert hall but it doesn’t bear repeated listening in the home. I’ve played it through a few times to make sure I’m not missing something here but my first impressions were correct. It drags. For the sake of completeness the second and third movements don’t suffer from misguided tempi and both come off very well. The finale is delivered with passion and understanding especially from the strings but it’s all too little too late.
This is a CD for members of the orchestra and maybe for those with an interest in the development of youth music. For everyone else it’s best to look elsewhere.
For members of the orchestra and maybe for those with an interest in the development of youth music.