And, well…I can be brief in my comments, as this Alto release is perhaps unnecessary. I suspect they’re merely jumping on the Florence Price bandwagon.
The first piece on the program, The Oak, is rather calculated and unimaginative, rendered even more so in this bleak reading of it from The Women’s Philharmonic, which sounds determinedly serious. The Mississippi River Suite which follows has great potential, with its many descriptive sections, but even here the playing is careful and listless. The opening is atmospheric enough, but in the 2nd section, Price calls for Native American drums and assorted percussion, but you’d hardly know they’re there; the festivities are so polite and timid. And later on when the music becomes more animated in high-spirited sections, characterization is restrained and the playing remains obstinately earthbound and cautious.
The recorded sound doesn’t help. Made in a slightly dry acoustic, the orchestra sounds lackluster and 2-dimensional, needing a good deal more color, sparkle and spaciousness. And I found it annoying that its entire 28 minutes are confined to one single track.
The 3rd Symphony is, compositionally, much more accomplished and interesting. However, as committed as this reading is, it doesn’t really do the piece justice, with some less than first-rate orchestral playing (the brass sound particularly challenged) and rather episodic musical outbursts (especially in the finale). And again, the recorded sound is not very flattering.
I have another CD from this orchestra, also for Koch, recorded in 1992, which is quite wonderful. Significantly, however, that one is conducted by the quite wonderful JoAnn Falletta, which alone may account for the difference. I have no previous experience with conductor Apo Hsu, but I’m inclined to lay much of the blame at her podium for this later program’s shortcomings.
And, certainly, the sound does her no favors. I am actually surprised to learn this was originally a Koch release, as I normally hear consistently wonderful recorded sound from that label. I therefore have suspicions that Alto’s in-house remastering has once again stifled what might have been a perfectly fine recording. I have experienced this many times in the past from this budget label, and suspect they’ve unnecessarily applied their ruinous remastering process to yet another one. However, I’ve not heard the original so I cannot say for sure. I make this observation based upon past experience.
Naxos has released several CDs in a series of this composer’s music (with John Jeter conducting various orchestras) which have been vastly superior in every way to this Alto. I highly recommend exploring those instead.