On CD: Slatkin's first Naxos recording with Detroit
In his new home, Slatkin moves to the familiar
by Mark J. Estren
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2; Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14. Leonard Slatkin; Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Naxos. $8.99.
Leonard Slatkin was known in his 12 years at the National Symphony Orchestra for championing less-played 20th-century American music. But on his first EDITED TO ADD: Naxos recording as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, he conducts works so tried-and-true that they could easily become tiresome. They don’t, thanks to the skill of the Detroit musicians, but these are still performances that have more visceral appeal than staying power.
(read more after the jump)
The quality of the string and brass playing in Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 is the CD’s strongest point. The orchestra stays together at all speeds and in all rhythms: In this live recording, there is none of the under-rehearsal that often marred Slatkin’s NSO performances. The Detroit Symphony’s polished sound is not ideal for Russian romanticism, but its evenness is attractive, especially at Slatkin’s often-speedy tempos. Some fast sections seem almost perfunctory, as it Slatkin wants to get through them to wallow in the symphony’s broadly expansive themes. This is most noticeable in the scherzo, whose opening is so heady as to sound breathless. But it is also apparent in the sprawling first movement, whose beginning is more menacing than melancholy and whose second theme is slowed to the point of ponderousness. (And Slatkin omits the first-movement exposition repeat.)
Yet this reading as a whole has considerable dramatic power, with an effective first-movement climax and some beautiful clarinet playing in the slow movement. Its perfunctory conclusion, though, is a disappointment, as if the finale builds to nothing.
The CD also includes Rachmaninoff’s famous Vocalise, which is played with beauty but a slight overdose of swooning expressiveness.
--Mark J. Estren
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