Times are tough for the world’s great orchestras, many of which now record on their own labels and offer CDs and downloads via their websites or third-party retailers. As a business model it seems to work well for the San Francisco Symphony, the LSO, the LPO and the Mariinsky Orchestra. Most recently, the Berliner Philharmoniker resurrected their short-lived own label with an impressive package of Schumann symphonies in a variety of physical and downloadable formats (review
). The Seattle Symphony, once so familiar on Delos and then Naxos, are among the latest ensembles to go it alone; this collection of French potboilers is one of their first releases.
The orchestra’s website directs downloaders to iTunes and Amazon,
although the 24-bit version under review is available from eclassical.com
for $17.36; this represents a small premium over the equivalent CD from
ArkivMusic. Unusually eclassical don’t specify the original sampling
rate, although spectrum analysis suggests it's likely to be 88.2-96kHz.
On paper at least this looks like a decent proposition, given that competing
24-bit flacs can cost considerably more. The conductor Ludovic Morlot
is new to me, but the music certainly isn’t; and the inherent
problem with such a traditional programme is that it’s up against
Seconds into Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso
and the veracity
of that last statement is all too evident. For a start the orchestra
aren’t on top form; what strikes me most, though, is the soupy,
unidiomatic reading of this classic. Not only is the performance lacking
in sophistication it’s also short on flash and fire. True, the
climaxes are impressive – albeit in a superficial sense - but
otherwise the band seem to be playing on autopilot. The remaining Ravel
items don’t fare much better, although the enthusiastic audience
reaction - hastily faded - suggests otherwise. As if that weren’t
dispiriting enough the sound is dry and lifeless; that may not be audible
on an mp3 or Mastered for iTunes, but it’s the kiss of death in
The pièce de résistance
here is the Saint-Saëns
, underpinned as it is by the auditorium’s
4,489-pipe Watjen concert organ. Alas, that performance is just as dreary
as its predecessors, if not more so. Morlot’s moulded phrasing,
foursquare rhythms and the recording’s complete lack of atmosphere
are frankly ruinous; even worse, that mighty organ sounds puny. Indeed,
at times it’s hard to believe the instrument’s in the same
hall, except in the closing pages; here conductor and engineers pull
out all the stops for a blazing if somewhat rhetorical finale.
Bland performances notwithstanding, this release might just be acceptable
as a cheap, low-res download or as a post-concert memento. However,
as a pricier high-res offering it’s far less appealing. Also,
the booklet, stuffed with encomia to the orchestra’s benefactors,
speaks of a certain parochialism that’s at odds with the professionalism
and style of other in-house labels.
Run-of-the-mill readings with sound to match; not an auspicious start for this new label.
Masterwork Index: Saint-Saëns