Nice to have the audiophile label Reference Recordings back in full operation again. Somebody there must like the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, because this is the second time they have offered the work – the first was by the Minnesota Orchestra. I don’t know if their idea of pairing up the Rachmaninoff and Bernstein Dances on the same disc is unique but it’s clearly a good one. And devoting the third selection to a recently-composed work in a similar form is a nice touch. Its young composer is of Peruvian-Jewish descent and this is only her second orchestral composition, premiered by the Utah Symphony just two years ago. Each dance has its own mood, with the second one evoking the vast Andean highlands. A thunder sheet, rain stick and chékere are heard.
It would be heard to go wrong with the inspired Bernstein music in his Symphonic Dances. Lockhart’s “second job” with the Boston Pops puts him in perfect form for handling the suite with plenty of energy and gusto. While movements of the Rachmaninoff Dances probably don’t end up on Boston Pops programs often, the piece abounds in spectacular orchestration and even has a saxophone in it – the only Rachmaninoff work which does. The dark and mysterious portions of the three-movement suite are delivered with the appropriate ominous tenor desired by the composer – including the quoting of his favorite Dies Irae theme. Everything concludes in a brilliant shower of Rimsky-Korsakoffian orchestral effects. Sonics are fully up to the natural balance of Prof. Keith Johnson’s previous efforts for the label, and seem to have a lower noise floor than some of the earlier recordings in their catalog.
– John Sunier