LOEFFLER: La Mort de Tintagiles. RUGGLES; Evocations. HANSON: Before the Dawn. COWELL: Variations for Orchestra / *Delphine Dupuy, vla d’amore; Basque National Orch.; Robert Trevino, cond / Ondine ODE 1396-2
We’ve had so many recordings in recent years of Europeans conducting American orchestras, often as their music directors, that it’s a nice twist to see an American conductor leading a European band. Robert Trevino is not only music director of this orchestra but principal guest conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI and artistic advisor of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra.
Charles Martin Loeffler, the oldest composer represented on this set, apparently thought of himself more as an Alsatian than an American composer, but he was actually born in Berlin, settling in the U.S. at age 21 and joining the Boston Symphony as a violinist. His tone poem Memories of My Childhood was a piece performed by Arturo Toscanini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and one he took a lot of flak for because it was older, more Romantic music and not cutting-edge of the 1940s. La Mort de Tinagiles is an even more modern-sounding piece than Memories; inspired by a strange marionette play by Maeterlinck about a wicked queen who murders an entire family one by one, it’s a tone poem with a prominent solo part for viola d’amore, a six-or seven-stringed instrument with “sympathetic” strings that resound the notes played on the upper strings. Interestingly, however, the viola d’amore part is not an “obviously” solo turn; its music is woven into the texture of the orchestra and, partly due to its gentle sound, rarely stands out. A well written piece, and a fascinating one.
Next up is Carl Ruggles’ orchestral version of his piano suite Evocations. Trevino conducts this very well, yet somehow I kept hearing Michael Tilson Thomas’ landmark recording in my mind’s ear while listening. The difference is that Trevino “smoothes out” Ruggles a bit, playing his music with a more legato feel, which is certainly attractive to the ear but not quite what one would associate with Ruggles’ music. Yet the performance is also quite powerful when called for. I guess it’s really just a matter of taste, and of having certain expectations based on one’s earlier exposure to this great score. Trevino certainly does not gloss over any of the details of the work, but with his more homogenized sound it often makes a different impression on one than the Tilson Thomas reading.
Indeed, as the program progressed, I began to realize that the powerful yet lyrical style that Trevino displayed in the Loeffler piece was his basic approach to all of the music on this CD. He takes an identical approach to Howard Hanson’s Before the Dawn and Henry Cowell’s Variations for Orchestra. Although the Hanson piece can sustain such an approach, to my mind it is not ideal, and this style is, I think, not really appropriate for Cowell but for one really zippy percussion section passage in the middle which he performs splendidly, but again this is my personal preference speaking. Listeners who enjoy a smoother approach to edgy classics may in fact find this a CD they can not only live with but actually prefer to the more visceral readings available by other conductors, but I personally find it to be a “one-size-fits-all” approach that does not make a clear delineation between compositional styles.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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