Well, there's certainly more than one fine orchestra in Montreal! All of this music was recently issued by Chandos, and very well done too, but conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal take the palm in these delightful pieces. It's so gratifying to see Nino Rota's "serious" music finally getting the attention that it deserves. A confirmed neo-classicist, he might best be described as a sort of Italian Poulenc, offering concert works of wit, scrupulous craftsmanship, instantly memorable tunefulness, and immaculate polish--and these qualities also describe the performances on offer here particularly well.
La Strada takes its subject from Fellini's 1954 film that also featured a score by Rota; but for the ballet of several years later Rota borrowed tunes from both that film and others. It's brilliant, effervescent music and this 30-minute symphonic suite belongs in the active repertoire of orchestras everywhere. Nézet-Séguin leads a dynamic and extremely colorful account of the piece, particularly effective in the tongue-in-cheek Rumba at the end of the second movement, and especially in the Romantic, lyrical episodes toward the end. The musicians of the orchestra seem to be having a terrific time, and the entire half-hour passes by in a flash. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if you immediately play the whole thing over from the beginning.
The Harp Concerto also deserves more frequent exposure. Heaven knows there aren't that many good ones around, and Rota's certainly stands among the best. Soloist Jennifer Swartz plays magnificently, and this performance, a bit slower in tempo but substantially more characterful and texturally sensitive than the competition on Chandos, effectively savors the work's many luscious moments. The Trombone Concerto is the least substantial music here (but then that's probably to be expected given the solo instrument), and Rota seems to be writing with his tongue aptly in his cheek. Alain Trudel similarly handles his solo part with the right jocose lightness.
Atma's sonics are uncompromisingly state-of-the-art. Wholly natural, ideally balanced in the concertos (the Harp Concerto is particularly marvelous), and ample in dynamic range, the music effortlessly fills your listening room with its euphonious charms. If you haven't had a chance to enjoy Rota beyond a few foreign films, make this disc your first encounter. And if you already know this music from previous outings, don't let that stop you from giving this disc a listen. These works are true classics, benefiting from different interpretive views. And even if this weren't the case, you would be hard pressed to find any versions finer than these.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com