DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in e, “From the New World”; Scherzo Capriccioso, Op. 66 – Buffalo Philharmonic/ JoAnn Falletta – Beau Fleuve Records 610708-094913, 52:48 ***1/2:
I have always been a fan of JoAnn Falletta; this release does nothing to deter that assessment. However, this is a symphony which has a lot of very famous and even revered recordings, many with some of the greatest orchestras in the world, and so one has to ask why it was released. Falletta, no matter how good the interpretation—and it is very good—is not better than the best of the best, so how can this possibly compete?
It is too easy and simplistic an answer to suggest that it is simply a vanity project on her part, though that could be part of it—after all, what conductor of any standing doesn’t want her own interpretation put down for the ages against the recorded competition? And she does have something to say, though I am bound to report that her Scherzo Capriccioso lacks energy and feels rather stagnant and lifeless when compared to Kubelik or even Previn (Telarc). But in the end it is the orchestra, so brilliant on some other albums, that lets this release down. These are live recordings with a minimum of applause (thank you) but which also show the strengths and weaknesses of the band to great effect. Strengths: superb brass and very colorful woodwinds. Weaknesses: the strings. Not only do they sound rather puny in spots but there are some real problems with technical acumen in multiple spots in the symphony, rather raw and unrefined, and a little scrappy. I don’t want to over emphasize this—it’s not bar to bar and unrelenting, only in some particularly difficult passages—but it is an issue that otherwise mars Falletta’s stirring and sterling conception.
And she does know what she is doing here. While mostly up-tempo, the phrasing is exceptional and the contrasts between the big themes in each movement both appropriate and logical. Falletta is a very musical and perspicacious conductor who is able to sell her concept to the orchestra and elicit the proper results. The is a production from the BPO’s own new label and no technical info is given about the recording though it hardly sounds like a state of the art production, the sound somewhat tubby and muddy. I really like the performance—I can’t overstate this—but this is not your only New World by any stretch of the imagination. If you are a Falletta fan or looking for a good supplement, this might be your disc. [Also disappointing they don’t offer SACDs as have most of the other symphonies…Ed.]
An excellent DG debut!