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Danse Macabre
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897) [10.42]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
The Noonday Witch, Op. 108 (1896) [14.55]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
A Night on the Bare Mountain (1867, re-orchestrated Rimsky-Korsakov 1886) [11.51]
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Tamara (1867/82) [22.05]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Danse Macabre, Op. 40 (1874) [7.23]
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Hallowe’en for sextet from Three Outdoor Scenes (1898/1911) [2.31]
Andrew Wan (violin: Danse Macabre)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal/Kent Nagano
rec. live 29-30 October 2015, Maison symphonique de Montréal, Canada
DECCA 4830396 [69.26]

I have first to admit that despite having admired Kent Nagano in previous recordings, especially his box set of the original versions of three Bruckner symphonies, I was distinctly underwhelmed by this live recording made just before Hallowe’en in 2015, and find myself very much at odds with my colleague Michael Cookson who opines, “The performances could hardly be bettered.”

First, the sound is hard and closely recorded and the performances marred throughout by persistent coughing, particularly during the fourth item but enough to be distracting in every single piece. Given that the bulk of this recording, apart from Ives’ composition Hallowe’en, is compiled from concerts recorded on two consecutive evenings, I would have hoped that less afflicted takes could have been selected. Perhaps the audience was equally bronchial both nights.

Secondly, the interpretations are essentially routine and even banal. There are several much better recordings of the more popular items here by such as Stokowski, Ormandy and, especially, the collection entitled “Mephisto & Co.” with the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Eiji Oue, which is in spectacular sound and much more energised.

Thirdly, it is a pity that so much of this 70 minute recital is taken up by two less than inspired works: Dvořak’s The Noonday Witch is well crafted but hardly amongst his greatest compositions. He excels when in dramatic, uplifting, folksy and soulful modes but I find him far less effective when attempting to be either pious or spooky. Hence, his liturgical compositions bore me, and in this tone poem, the good-natured introductory section proves more beguiling than his ghostly music, even though the con sordino strings theme creates a welcome sense of menace. It is therefore all the more regrettable that the atmospheric depiction of the appearance of the witch, repeated by bassoon, bass clarinet and strings, is marred by yet more hacking.

The rare Balakirev tone poem Tamara hardly seems to meet the criterion for inclusion, in that there is little in it which sounds truly macabre or disturbing. Even though it pre-dates Scheherazade, the first melody, taken up by clarinet, flute then strings in the introductory section, is a sub-par version of the first tune in Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite. It is followed by a generic waltz then what sounds like a pastiche of Borodin’s Polovstian Dances or the less gripping movements of a Tchaikovsky ballet.

The Dukas is decidedly routine in that it omits to point up much detail in the score; other recordings are without doubt wittier and more spritely. The Mussorgsky showpiece is well played but again hardly memorable. I listened to the cacophonous Ives number with an open mind; played it once more then decided that I never wanted to hear it again.

All in all, this is a disappointing disc. It does not help that Decca fails to indicate anywhere on the cover that it was recorded live, coughing and all.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Michael Cookson



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