November 06, 2008


Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod from “Tristan und Isolde”; Berlioz: Love Scene from “Romeo et Juliette”; Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture. Oregon Symphony conducted by James DePreist. Delos. $16.99.

Opera Gala: 35th Anniversary Tribute to Delos Founder Amelia S. Haygood. Delos. $16.99.

     The music is excellent, the performances are fine, and the recordings are good; but sometimes, it is hard to understand why CDs have been released. The title of the latest one from James DePreist and the Oregon Symphony is “Tragic Lovers,” which means one piece devoted to Tristan and Isolde and two to Romeo and Juliet. But none of this music will be new to most listeners, and none of the interpretations is especially insightful, although all are all right – except for one wholly unnecessary slowdown in the middle of the Tchaikovsky, probably intended to communicate more emotion but actually merely ruining the music’s flow. The Oregon Symphony is a good orchestra that plays well for DePreist, its laureate music director. But it is not one of the world’s or nation’s very best, and simply shows on this CD that it can handle standard repertoire well. And the CD itself is short, at 54 minutes. There may be a specific business purpose to its release: the Oregon Symphony has a recording fund that partly paid for it. But why would a listener not affiliated with that orchestra and not strongly devoted to DePreist as a conductor select this CD for this repertoire? No reason is readily apparent.

     The reason for the existence of Opera Gala is spelled out in the remainder of this CD’s title: the recording is a celebration of 35 years of Delos, a fine California-based independent label that was founded by Amelia S. Haygood. The CD’s 15 tracks range from two to 11 minutes in length – the longest, surprisingly, is from the little-known Raffaello by Anton Arensky – and include music both from well-known works (I Pagliacci, Il Trovatore, Turandot) and from less-known ones (Tchaikovsky’s Oprichnik, Villa-Lobos’ Forest of the Amazon, Rimsky-Korsakov’s May Night). Among the performers are Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Renée Fleming, Vassily Gerello and Ewa Podleś. Most of the orchestras, like most of the singers, are Russian, including the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Moscow Radio Symphony and Philharmonic of Russia. But what music lover will pay $17 for this compendium of all-over-the-map short pieces – and why? It certainly makes sense for Delos to celebrate Haygood, and this sampler CD certainly shows some of the strength of the Delos catalogue; but it is a sampler, the sort of thing that Delos might have considered giving away as a promotion (perhaps as a companion to some of its recent releases) – not the kind of CD that really justifies being sold, as a standalone disc, for full price.

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