This sort of "calling-card" programme, besides making for pleasant
listening, once served a practical purpose, allowing both new and
established performers to showcase their talents in varied repertoire.
If the disc included a previously unrecorded or otherwise hard-to-find
work, so much the better, though veteran collectors could find the
concomitant duplication of standards a nuisance.
We probably won't be seeing much of this kind of collection in the
future, however. Digital downloading makes it easy to acquire individual
items, so you can get, say, the overture to Der Vampyr without
taking on a flock of pieces you don't want, or need, to duplicate.
Nor will an unfamiliar or inexperienced artist be pressured to record
a full album's worth of material: a few carefully chosen items will
suffice as an introduction -- returning us to the situation in the
days of 78 rpm, but without the stores!
Meanwhile, I'm pleased to have "met" the Tasmanian Symphony and its
music director, Sebastian Lang-Lessing. The orchestra's tone is polished;
and its focused sonority makes a good impact, though string sections
in isolation can sound less impressive. Lang-Lessing's interpretive
instincts are healthy: he usually keeps things flowing, but also knows
how to let the music "breathe". The pensive opening of Die Hebriden
is spacious; the introduction to Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor
moves along easily, maintaining a similar spaciousness. An intermittent
problem, presumably technical rather than musical, is the conductor's
heavy-handed execution of sectional ritards.
The Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, which concludes the programme,
comes off best here. Lang-Lessing infuses the fluttering string figures
with a nice tensile strength, without overdriving them, and brings
out the varied musical elements of the more heavily layered textures.
The Nicolai is similarly fine: the body of the piece, once past the
introductory chirping, is graceful and shapely.
The Schumann and Marschner overtures - the latter cast in a similar
post-Beethoven style - get gripping performances, with the violins
playing the energetic gestures with a taut vigour. Both are marred
slightly by clumsy tempo manoeuvres. The transitional slowdown in
the Marschner is noticeably stiff - after which the second theme snaps
back into tempo! A slower, tempo for the second theme of Manfred,
completely unrelated to the original, breaks the momentum of the piece
for a bit.
Small blemishes, which might well pass muster in concert, compromise
other selections. In the atmospheric Hebrides, the lead-in
to the recap is awkward, and the balance in the clarinet duet a few
pages later is off. Der Freischütz has many good things
in it - the horn duet near the start is evocative - but, in the final
tutti, the anaemic high thrust at 9:25 is a let-down.
Unfortunately, the Beethoven, the most substantial piece on the programme,
comes off weakest. Lang-Lessing has some good insights: he uses the
trim rhythmic pattern of the basses to propel the start of the Allegro,
and makes the final Presto both lilting and weighty. Positives,
yes, but reticent playing is a problem. The opening fortissimo
attack is a bashful thud; the octave string runs in the development
are blurry and underpowered; and the episode at 8:27, after the second
trumpet call, sits there, limp and dispirited.
I liked the sound, but the producers weren't paying enough attention
to the spaces between tracks. An extra second or two between Der
Vampyr and Hebrides would have helped. On the other hand,
there's too much time between the Nicolai and Weber items; then, the
latter's final chord has barely cleared when the Beethoven begins!
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and