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Fauré in Seattle

03-01-2019 | By Stephen Francis Vasta | Issue 102

FAURÉ Orchestral works. Seattle Symphony/Ludovic Morlot. Seattle Symphony Media SSM1004.  TT: 70.29. Masques et bergamasques. Fantaisie for Flute (orch. Talmi; with Demarre McGill, flute). Pelléas et Mélisande: Suite. Berceuse for Violin and Orchestra (with Alexander Velinzon, violin). Élégie for Cello and Orchestra (with Efe Baltacigil, cello). Dolly (orch. Rabaud). Pavane (with Seattle Symphony Chorus).

Full disclosure: I haven't gotten so much sheer pleasure from a listening session in a long time. I mean, who doesn't like Fauré?

As Music Director, Ludovic Morlot has pumped new life into the Seattle Symphony, in the doldrums since the departure of Gerard Schwarz. He's brought more French music into the orchestra's repertoire, formerly dominated by flashier Romantic and contemporary scores. He's also changed the orchestra's sound, making it cleaner in attack and clearer in texture, emphasizing the long singing line.

All this works to advantage in Fauré's music, which benefits from flexibility but absolutely requires clarity. The opening Masques et bergamasques is representative. Morlot launches the Ouverture with a crisp, no-nonsense attack and a focused energy, yet maintains a sense of elegance. The clean, simple textures of the Menuet are almost stereotypically "French," while rhythmic point informs both the light-textured Gavotte and the full-bodied yet gentle Pastorale.

The more assertive Pelléas music suggests the French post-Wagnerians, minus the heavy-brass dominance. The dignified Prélude is at once flowing and spacious. Shapely motifs ride over the "spinning" accompaniment in a smooth Fileuse. The flute, more prominent throughout the suite than I'd remembered, is haunting in the Sicilienne. La mort de Mélisande accumulates a powerful intensity, subsiding first into desolation, then finding some consolation.

Dolly is, like Bizet's Jeux d'enfants, an orchestral transcription of piano pieces for children, though Fauré paints his suite in gentler, softer-edged colors—until the concluding Pas espagnol, which builds from a quiet start to a breezy, exuberant finish. On the way there, the Mi-o-u movement—sounds like a cat to me—is playful and buoyant, despite a brief, ominous low-string passage. Kitty valse (another cat!) goes with an easy waltz "swing," and Tendresse opens into broad, full-throated climaxes, though somehow I was expecting one more cadential chord.

The concerted works showcase three of the orchestra's principals. Morlot really moves the Berceuse along—it's almost brusque, oddly for a lullaby—though concertmaster Alexander Velinzon plays it well. Flutist Demarre McGill renders the Fantaisie, orchestrated by Yoav Talmi, in clear, sometimes clarinet-like tones; its initial nostalgia gives way to a more affirmative section introduced by pizzicato strings. It's interesting to hear the Élégie in this context—it's more usually harnessed to Saint-Saëns and Lalo—and Efe Baltacigil doesn't shrink from its emotional outpourings.

The familiar Pavane, unfortunately, ends the program on an off note (not literally). The conductor gently daubs orchestral colors into the flowing opening paragraphs, but the first choral entry, by the women, rather dissipates the atmosphere. All the choral singing, in fact, seems disproportionately forthright, though it's not "too loud": it's a matter, not of decibels, but of demeanor. The orchestra also seems uneasy here, especially the principal hornist, who keeps creeping ahead in the "B" section.

Most of the time, the recorded sound is gorgeous, at once warm and extraordinarily clean. The ambience of the Taper Foundation Auditorium enhances the flute's haunting effect in Pelléas, though the high peaks in the Fantaisie and in the Berceuse movement of Dolly hit the mikes hard. The orchestra's website lists primephonic.com and Google Play among sources for downloads, but neither site seems still to carry the album.


Downloads: acousticsounds.com (FLAC multichannel); Amazon.com (mp3s available with purchase of CD); hdtracks.com (AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WAV); iTunes (mp3?); prestomusic.com (mp3, FLAC).