|Review by seth January 2, 2013 (12 of 13 found this review helpful)
|In my view, the main attraction here is Edgar Varèse masterpiece, "Ameriques." A bold and thoroughly original work, its genius is that it has no narrative or thematic development, yet it feels like there is some kind of story being told, that the loud outbursts and repeated motifs are representative of something. It's absolute music, but never really feels like it. As complex as it is, I think it's fairly accessible, especially after the first listen.
This is easily the best recording of the 1927 version of "Ameriques" since the Dohnanyi/Cleveland one on Decca in 1993. Besides being a virtuosic performance, Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra excel in the quieter moments, building a sense of mystery and making it sound like the orchestra is groaning at times. Despite the huge number of instruments -- over 120 -- and percussion section of 9 players, parts are kept clearly delineated, everything properly balanced and integrated. Even as Varèse piles on layer after layer of sound, clarity is maintained.
For those wondering about the versions, "Ameriques" as it premiered in 1926 by Stokowski/Philadelphia was written for about 140 musicians. The next year Varèse made revisions to the score and slimmed down the number of musicians needed. Most of the changes are in the orchestration; on the whole the differences are not too substantial.
The other works on the disc are all new to me.
I liked Harrison's Concerto for Organ and Percussion Orchestra quite a bit. The outer movements are bright and energetic while the three inner more introspective, especially the central Largo movement which is the emotional heart of the piece. For a relatively old piece -- premiered 1973 -- I'm surprised it doesn't get played more often; it's pretty accessible and there aren't too many good pieces for orchestra that include a large organ part.
The two Cowell compositions didn't do much for me, but the piano concerto does give Jeremy Denk an opportunity to shine. He and the music are dazzling, but it has no resonance with me.
I feel like I say this every few months, but this disc easily goes to the top of my best sounding SACDs. Between all the percussion instruments, organ, and large orchestral forces, these recordings will give any system a workout. The deep bass from the percussion pack quite an impact without being boomy -- you feel the instruments more than hear them at times. The only other SFS Media recording I own is their Mahler 5; I feel that the sound here is significantly better: cleaner, tighter, and a tad brighter. By comparison it sounds like the Mahler 5 had reverb added to it in post making the sound a little mushy. And for whatever it is worth, the multi-channel track as a LFE channel (I suppose that aids my system and woofer in the bass management).
Highly recommended. Everyone should own at least one recording "Ameriques;" this disc not only has one of the best performances of it, but certainly the best recorded version.
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