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Ives: Symphony No 2; Carter: Instances; Gershwin: An American In Paris / Morlot

Ives / Carter / Gershwin
Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Seattle Symphony   Catalog #: 1003   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles IvesElliott CarterGeorge Gershwin
Conductor:  Ludovic Morlot
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

IVES Symphony No. 2 1. CARTER Instances 2. GERSHWIN An American in Paris 3 Ludovic Morlot, cond; Seattle SO SEATTLE SYMPHONY MEDIA 1003 (65:03) Live: Seattle 1 6/14-17/2012, 2 2/7-10/2013, Read more class="SUPER12">3 9/17, 29, and 10/1/2011

Judging from the present CD, music director Ludovic Morlot is enjoying a love affair with his musicians in the Seattle Symphony. Gone is the acrimony between players and conductor which characterized the last years of Gerard Schwarz’s tenure, resulting in an exposé in The New York Times . Now, the orchestra plays for Morlot con amore . I’m glad that Schwarz’s commitment to American music in Seattle is continuing under the French-born Morlot. He gives the finest performance of Charles Ives’s Second Symphony I’ve ever heard. This quintessentially American work has proved a lure to foreign-born maestros. Eugene Ormandy and Neeme Järvi both recorded distinguished versions, Järvi making the case for some daringly quick tempos. Seiji Ozawa also favors brisk tempos; it is a shame that his enthralling interpretation never has been recorded. Morlot brings a French sensitivity for texture and beauty of sound to his performance. Everything about this rendition bespeaks a golden mean. Balances and tempos are just so, without the exaggeration accounts of this work can be prone to. Leonard Bernstein called Ives a “primitive,” but I disagree. His incredibly precocious First Symphony demonstrates a technique any European composer of his time could be proud of. Morlot seems to say that, while the thematic material of the Second is indigenously American, this is a symphony in the great Romantic mold. The work always has moved me deeply, and never more so than in Morlot’s performance.

The opening movement features beautifully cultivated string playing, almost Central European in its dark, burnished tone. The ensuing Allegro offers a panoramic view of the young Ives’s musical world, with a feeling of nostalgia that doesn’t veer into sentimentality. Morlot never rushes his tempos, yet he still conveys the music’s sweep. The Adagio cantabile begins with exquisitely controlled, hushed playing. In this movement, Morlot elicits an autumnal, Brahmsian lyricism. He gets a sonority reminiscent of Ives’s organ playing in the Lento maestoso . The last movement is energetic but not chaotic. As with some Dvo?ák finales, there is a peasant sensibility which always remains noble, even during a fiddle tune like Turkey in the Straw . The solo flute and cello have a beautiful duet, and Morlot judges the balances in the coda expertly. His interpretation of the symphony does just about everything right without ever putting the conductor on center stage. The astringency of Elliott Carter’s Instances makes it an excellent choice to follow the Ives. This was Carter’s last orchestral work, receiving here its premiere recording. It is an exquisite miniature, featuring a highly evocative use of spare orchestral textures. Its concluding episode achieves an edgy sort of consolation.

Morlot’s account of Gershwin’s An American in Paris has a flowing, rhapsodic quality. The rhythmic underpinnings always move the work along without being unduly emphasized. The orchestral sound is smooth and full, rarely aggressive. This is as Romantic an interpretation in its way as the Ives is. The Seattle first chairs shine. In the blues section, there is a sophisticated, New York quality. Morlot follows it with an episode evoking a dance band. The piece’s conclusion sounds pleasingly sexy. I have a slight preference for Leonard Slatkin’s EMI version, which is superior to Morlot’s in matters of detail. Throughout Morlot’s disc, the recording engineering is superb, remarkably so for live performances. Based on this CD, I think we can expect great things from Morlot in Seattle. The Ives Second definitely is Want List material.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 by Charles Ives
Conductor:  Ludovic Morlot
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1900-1902; USA 
Instances by Elliott Carter
Conductor:  Ludovic Morlot
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2012; United States 
An American in Paris by George Gershwin
Conductor:  Ludovic Morlot
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; USA 

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