The good news: Leonard Slatkin comes to life in a characterful reading of Le tombeau de Couperin
. The opening Prélude
sounds a bit runny - the rhythmic foundation could be firmer - but the interplay of colours is pleasing. Slatkin paces the two middle movements slightly faster than usual, underlining the dance element in the Forlane
and the easy flow of the Menuet
. The Rigaudon
is splashy, if perhaps over-aggressive.
, too, is good. The 1960s and 1970s vogue for performances that underlined civilization's mad rush to destruction seems, mercifully, to have passed; conductors now feel free to play this score for purely musical values, as Slatkin does. He brings a sense of fantasy to the lightly scored passages, and infuses the rest with an appropriate dance-like lilt. The woodwind run around the ten-minute mark is slightly ahead of everyone else.
Valses nobles et sentimentales
is a case of swings and roundabouts. The rhythmic chords at the start are muffled and soggy. The piquant third (Modéré
) and fourth (Assez animé
) movements flow gracefully, but the fifth (Presque lent
), though attentively moulded, loses momentum. The Moins vif
movement, anticipating the buoyant rhythmic patterns of La valse
, achieves some uplift; but then the Epilogue
, less an actual waltz than a thoughtful reflection on the form, lies there inert.
Marius Constant's transcription of Gaspard de la nuit
is intelligently conceived - such liquid piano writing doesn't transfer readily to the orchestra - even if Constant seems to have had Debussy’s La mer
, rather than Ravel, in his ear. Here we get the Slatkin familiar from his earlier series of RCA recordings, seemingly unattuned to subtleties of orchestral colour and texture. The lightly scored opening of Ondine
conveys no sense of anticipation; the high-lying passages don't shimmer; the climaxes don't surge. In Le gibet
, the woodwinds at the start draw the ear, but successive episodes become increasingly static. The chattering bits in Scarbo
are effective, but the fuller passages that follow sound generalized, the tutti
s portentous. In short, we have the sounds without the music.
transcription awaits a more fully realized performance. Meanwhile, for durable accounts of the other works, you could do worse than Boulez’s Sony versions, from Cleveland (La valse
) and New York, with Martinon (EMI), Monteux (Philips), and Masur (Warner Apex) as possible supplements for La valse
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and
Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey