The National Symphony Orchestra and I are proud to present this debut album on our new label. These live recordings were made at our home, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. It is only fitting that this recording, made in June 2019, is dedicated to two composers who contributed greatly to the tapestry of American music.
America’s vastness and diversity are on full display in these two works by Antonin Dvorak and Aaron Copland. It took two individuals from very different backgrounds to give us some of the foundational works on which the American sound has continued to be built over the decades.
When I listen to Copland’s Billy the Kid, I immediately envision the frontier of the American West. It is a source of constant fascination to me that the composer of this quintessential American sound was born in Brooklyn to a family with Russian origins. Inspired by American folk songs, African American spirituals, and Native American songs, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”, was composed during the composer’s years in New York and weaves these American sounds into his rich and lush orchestral language.
The cultural bridges built between Africa, Europe, and America allowed artists from these continents to nurture each other and develop different perspectives and rich artistic languages. These compositions are prime examples of those cultural connections and interactions.
We are pleased to have been able to record these live performances and we hope you will enjoy listening to them.
Total time: 01:02:30
Pyramix, Merging Technologies
|Original Recording Format|
Mark Donahue, Soundmirror
Blanton Alspaugh, Soundmirror
John Newton, Soundmirror
Recorded live in DSD 256 on June 6, 8, and 9, 2019 at the Concert Hall at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Pyramix, Merging Technologies
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||February 2, 2020|
A brand-new label showcasing both the National Symphony Orchestra and their home – the Kennedy Center – in Washington DC offers two familiar postcards ‘From the New World’ in performances that should but don’t stand out from the crowd. The venue sounds well enough in what is clearly a well-engineered disc and the inimitable chord spacings that open Copland’s Billy the Kid Suite certainly convey that sense of ‘tall, wide and handsome’ – a sense that, notwithstanding the Godfather of American music Charles Ives, the American orchestral sound essentially began here.
But the open, rather too well-homogenised (for my taste) sound picture contributes to a presentation of this music that, while slickly projected by the NSO and its music director Gianandrea Noseda, is somehow too urbane to be entirely in keeping with its frontier spirit, its homespun local colour, Mexican dances and the like. It feels and sounds like a rather expensive 21st-century pageant – a depiction of the famous outlaw and his milieu that heaven forbid should get down and dirty.
As we move into Dvo?ák’s celebrated letter home from North America, it becomes more and more apparent to me that part of the reason why Noseda’s reading feels overly generalised and short on personality is a sound picture that favours blend over detail. Rich and sonorous as it is, the whole thing is lacking litheness and rhythmic profile. I want to hear more definition in the brass, a sharper immediacy to the horns and trombones especially, and trumpets that really cut through the texture. Their exciting ‘hairpins’ in the coda of the first movement go for absolutely nothing.
But it’s not just the sound that’s the issue here. In a piece this familiar it’s those ‘personal’ touches that make it live and breathe again, and in this slow movement one feels like one is standing back in admiration of the super-smooth brass chorale and well-upholstered cor anglais solo rather than being drawn afresh into the musical narrative. The middle section of this movement can and should tug at the heartstrings, as should the use of solo strings at the close. But it remains strangely impassive.
Again there is fire and resilience in the finale but little of the excitement it can muster. Both sonically and interpretatively I feel like I am at arm’s length from everything. How much more exciting the harmonic interaction of trumpets against trombones against tremolando violins in the coda would be if there were not just more immediacy but a very real sense of the music over-reaching itself. These are respectable performances for a respectable audience but nothing whatever to frighten the horses.
A live production invariably brings so much more emotional thrill that it largely outweighs any imperfection it may entail; in this particular case the positive tension between audience and musicians is tangible, and the more I listen the more I like it.
It may be clear that from the luxury of available versions, which by the way and for various reasons do not all come into prime focus, it may be difficult to make up one’s mind. That said, Noseda and his forces surely are in the top league. And with a compelling Billy the Kid Suite from Aaron Copland’s complete ballet, plus on top of that an exemplary sound, with modest but effective surround, one can hardly go wrong when opting for Gianandrea Noseda and the National Symphony Orchestra.
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