Van Zweden and the New York Phil Improve, Somewhat

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 7

After their awful Beethoven disc I had low expectations for Van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic, sad to say, but these aren’t bad performances. If you had gone to the concerts, you might have come away satisfied, if not thrilled. The problem is that these performances are just not competitive in either work.

The Rite of Spring (Van Zweden’s second recording of the work) begins very successfully, the opening bassoon solo nicely eerie, the winds and brass full of character. From there, though, it’s all just ordinary. Most of the quick bits sound marginally under tempo–not that they are, they just sound that way due to a lack of bite, of hard accents, of the sort of take-no-prisoners commitment that the music demands. The Procession of the Sage lacks terror, the Sacrificial Dance the sort of heart pounding drive we’ve come to expect. As I said, it’s not bad, but hardly exciting.

The Debussy, though, is pretty mediocre. I don’t understand why so many conductors today treat so-called “impressionist” music with kid gloves. For heaven’s sake, the man had guts, and expected his music to be played that way. Everything above mezzo-forte here sounds diffuse. The end of the first movement is a damp squib, the storm at the start of the finale is a tempest in a teapot. This orchestra can make sounds that peel the paint off of the concert hall roof. I’ve heard them. Why won’t Van Zweden let them? The sonics are dry, pretty clear, and rather dull. Really, why bother?

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Debussy: Martinon (EMI/Warner); Stravsinky: Ozawa (RCA)

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