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Symphony Sampler a Worthy – but Misguided – Recorded Debut PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 20 November 2001 18:00
With a robust musical tradition to draw on, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) has released its first full-length CD, an assembly of movements and snippets drawn from recordings by Augustana’s WVIK public-radio station.

The problem with the CD is that one loses an accurate sense of the whole piece, because the CD is comprised of recorded selections from larger works. And context is lost in other ways, too: These recordings are from live QCSO concerts, and the CD cannot duplicate the atmosphere of the concert and companion pieces. The result is a snapshot of an orchestra that performs well in the moment but loses the concert energy on CD.

For instance, I remember how much I enjoyed Enigma Variations when the piece was performed live, but hearing it again in excerpted form, in all of its digital glory, I yearned for the other variations, especially the Nimrod.

The producers have chosen a fine assortment of new and old performances for this CD. The selections are not limited to the recent Don Schleicher years; some tracks date back to vintage perform from former QCSO conductor and musical director James Dixon.

Selections include the recently performed Symphonic Sketches of Chadwick, the second movement (Largo) from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, Brahms’ Tragic Overture, the Sanctus from Verdi’s Requiem Mass, and Romeo Alone from Hector Berlioz’s Romeo & Juliet.

Universally, the selections on the CD are much slower, in some instances by a whole minute, than recorded counterparts. At times this is helpful, but at others it’s downright painful. The slow pace illuminates the Sanctus with clear choral treatment and also adds to the pastoral beauty of Dvorak’s Largo. But Elgar’s finale to the Enigma Variations lacks not only early speed but also fullness and interest.

Even beyond the tempo of the performances, the individual interpretations of these selections did not excite me. But I think this has more to do with the solitary space the selections occupy in a larger work and in a concert, and not so much the quality of the performances. Generally, it’s unfair to criticize the interpretation of eight to 12 minutes of a piece that might be 40 minutes long and performed in the company and context of other works.

Nevertheless, the performance of Brahms’ Tragic Overture is uninspired and plagued by inattentive horns; the tenor of the performance is ploddingly flat. Though Brahms was an obsessively structured composer, he never wavered from the Romantic idiom he conquered so convincingly. Drama, pathos, and energy fill his compositions, but the QCSO failed to capitalize on what makes Brahms great.

Even with its ups and downs, this first QCSO recording is a wise investment for any fan of the orchestra. It is our hometown orchestra, and this CD is a nice summary of its performance history.

The CD is also a must-have for anyone wanting to explore the Quad City Symphony and classical music in general. For new listeners, the bite-sized selections make the chosen music consumable. With Brahms, Elgar, Chadwick, Handel, Berlioz, Dvorak, and Verdi represented, this collection is an adequate introduction to a second tier of standard composers, beyond the universally consumable Brahms, Beethoven, and Vivaldi. Moreover, the orchestra’s performances – while not daring – are immediately accessible to the average listener.

Hopefully, this first recorded outing will not be the symphony’s last, and the QCSO would do well to provide complete works instead of samples. A full Enigma Variations, an entire recording of Debussy’s La Mer, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and the handful of entire Brahms symphonies would make suitable and exciting follow-ups. If copyrights and royalties could be worked out, John Browning’s performance of the Barber Piano Concerto would also be a welcome addition, as would an entire performance of Verdi’s Requiem. With so much music to draw on, it would be a shame if the QCSO chose to begin and end with a sampler CD.
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