Morlot Conducts Modern Music & Ravel

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BERIO: Sinfonia for 8 Voices & Orchestra.* BOULEZ: Notations I-IV for Orchestra. RAVEL: La Valse / *Roomful of Teeth; Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Ludovic Morlot, cond / Seattle Symphony Media 1018

Ludovic Morlot, a conductor who blows hot and cold—I’ve liked some of his recordings but not all—gives us here a strange program of Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez and, of all people, Maurice Ravel. Of course I know Ravel’s La Valse, and have heard excerpts of Boulez’ Notations for Orchestra, but Luciano Berio’s wacky Sinfonia for 8 Voices and Orchestra was entirely new to me. In many ways, it’s typical Berio, using harmonic and rhythmic displacements to create a structure in which the listener feels that he or she has nothing to hold onto, and this time he produced a real kaleidoscope of sound. The music is certainly exciting, and the vocal group Roomful of Teeth sings with tremendous energy and enthusiasm, but at more than a half hour long, the music tends to overstay its welcome, often battering the ears with explosive brass-and-percussion explosions that seemed to me excessive and pointless. If you are a Berio fancier, however, you may find that it says more to you than it did to me. That being said, I did like the second movement (“O King”) in and of itself; it is quite atmospheric, and holds together better than some of the other sections. The third section, “In ruhig fliessender Bewegung,” uses a tune from the Mahler Fourth Symphony as a background to his mad deconstruction. It’s whimsical in a bizarre sort of way.

Boulez’ Notations has always seemed, to me, to be his best work, a tightly-written series of variations in serial form. Interestingly, Morlot performs them out of sequence, giving us the fourth Notation in between numbers one and two. It makes an effective contrast.

Most interest6ing of all, oddly enough, is Morlot’s performance of the Ravel, a waltz that deconstructs itself. He brings out even more detail in this performance than Ansermet or Toscanini, and the flow of the music is better than that of both conductors—a real waltz feel to the music.

An interesting disc, then, albeit one overweighed by the Berio piece. Definitely worth hearing his performance of La Valse!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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