Notes and Editorial Reviews
DALLAS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: THE EDUARDO MATA YEARS
Eduardo Mata, cond; Mariana Paunova (contralto
); Dallas S Ch;
DORIAN SONO LUMINUS DSL 92109 (6 discs: 398:43) Rec: 1991–93
Symphonies: No. 7,
; No. 9.
The Rite of Spring.
On the Waterfront.
Symphony No. 3.
Billy the Kid:
Symphony in B?,
Roman Festivals. Pines of Rome. Brazilian Impressions
This set is a companion to the collection of Mata’s Venezuelan recordings titled
Latin America Alive
, which I reviewed in
33:4. Again, the original tapes have been remastered by Brandie Lane, improving the already striking sound. Mata was chief conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the time of his death in 1995. Together they recorded for EMI and Pro Arte but the final sessions were for Dorian, whose catalog is gradually being reissued. This box is more than just a memorial to the conductor; it is a fine collection of (mainly) 20th-century orchestral works in its own right.
More on the sound: The original issues presented a combination of clarity in the upper register and boomy presence in the lower. The boominess has been tamed in this remastering. The orchestral balance is natural insofar as the brass are more “in your face” than the woodwinds (note the trombones in the
and the finale of Ibert’s
); the strings are clearly out in front, while the percussion cuts through from the back. There is still a good deal of bass, but that merely serves to remind us how often this end of the spectrum is missing from orchestral recordings. The overriding impression is of closely miked, carefully balanced instrumental sections within a resonant space (in this case, the Eugene McDermott Hall in the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas). The result is undeniably exciting.
CD 1: Mata conducts a gutsy performance of Prokofiev’s
appropriately vigorous and savage. The coupling is the archetype of stylized primitivism, Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring. Fanfare
’s Leslie Gerber called this performance “rather a dud” and “one of those galumphing
that thrashes around like a wounded dinosaur” (15:3). I disagree. For me, Mata’s steady, controlled rhythms remind us that this score represents an ancient ritual, not a spontaneous all-out frenzy. He sets a sharp-accented but sedate tempo for the initial “Dance of the Adolescents,” whereas some conductors plunge headlong into the excitement and leave themselves nowhere to go. As the tension builds in Mata’s performance, so does the weight. This
is not light on its feet in the manner of Dudamel’s recent version, but neither was Nijinsky’s original choreography, which involved a lot of foot stamping with weight on the heel. Does that constitute galumphing? If so, it galumphs authentically. The virtues of Mata’s performance are certainly enhanced by the cleaned-up bass in this new remastering.
CD 2: Sound is also an important factor in the success of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony. The many quiet parts of this work are well characterized, with every section of the Dallas orchestra contributing first-class playing.
This symphony is one of the pieces where Mata comes up against the competition of Bernstein, whose “Leningrad” with the Chicago Symphony on DG remains a prime recommendation. Mata’s is a brisk, no-nonsense reading; at 77:54 he is faster than Haitink and Gergiev, and considerably more fleet than Bernstein’s 84:53, although to be fair Bernstein restores a cut in the first movement. Unlike Haitink, Mata’s goose-stepping march does not turn nasty gradually but is given an edge from the very beginning, with sharply pungent woodwind colors. Mata finds urgency wherever he can; the tempo change eight minutes into the Adagio moves along at a real clip. His approach prevents the symphony from sprawling or hanging fire, which it can do all too readily.
CD 3: Mata’s Shostakovich Ninth is high-spirited and fleet when it needs to be. The conductor stretches out the Largo movement—this is more than a mere caricature of Khachaturian—but pulls it off. I especially like the halting, exploratory character of the second movement, launched by an inquisitive clarinet.
gains from the precision of the choral singing, with the choir well integrated in the sound picture. Mariana Paunova’s velvet contralto is rich without too much of the Slavic wobble. The “Battle on the Ice” sequence has been done with even more urgency by others (such as Abbado) but overall this is a strong, forthright performance.
CD 4: The spectre of Bernstein rises again in the American program. Not only in his own suite from
On the Waterfront
, but also in the Copland and Harris pieces, this is Bernstein’s home turf. For once, Mata feels undercharacterized. On its own terms, though, the disc is enjoyable, typically well played and recorded. As far as I am concerned, the more recordings of Harris’s Third Symphony the better!
CD 5: The French program is something of a mixed bag. Coming fresh from the Eloquence reissue of Ansermet’s Chausson symphony, I found Mata’s textures thick and the finale lacking impetus. The companion pieces by Ibert work beautifully; if the Chausson symphony is under-energized, Mata makes up for it with a brilliant performance of “Valencia,” the third port of call in
His Divertissement is similarly bright and jovial (although Martinon’s classic performance from 1960, a true
romp, continues to trump all subsequent competition).
CD 6: Saving the brightest till last, the set concludes with a Respighi program. Mata and the orchestra are in their element in the dazzling Roman showpieces and atmospheric in the central
. (Have these pieces ever had a dull recording?)
Working through the whole set, it is clear that Mata was a conductor who rarely settled for a generalized atmosphere. At any given moment in these works he is invariably detailed and specific, and the orchestra is on its toes throughout. Special mention should be made of the strings, always responsive and tight in ensemble. Excellent notes are provided, along with the text of the cantata and all the other information that might be required. In other words, it’s a bargain.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott