Sullivan / Sibelius, Incidental Music for The Tempest, Kansas City Symphony, M. Stern
(released on July 8, 2008)
Reference Recordings RR-115 | 68'40"
The programming idea of Stern's debut disc with the Kansas City Symphony is ingenious, pairing two rather different sets of incidental music for Shakespeare's play The Tempest. True, Arthur Sullivan's set of seven movements, composed when he was only 19 years old, would not have been my first choice for the odd rarity slot, not with choices like John Weldon's music for the Dryden/D'Avenant adaptation (once attributed to Purcell) or Matthew Locke's for the Shadwell version or even Tchaikovsky's overture. Sullivan excelled as a melodist, and these little introductions to various scenes of the play are amiable and varied, but a great work it is not.
Direct comparison of the still-teenage Sullivan's attempt with the masterful suites of incidental music by Sibelius (some of this music was played by the NSO in 2005), then in his 60s and a veteran orchestrator, is just not fair. Stern shows a clear and sensitive hand in both works, with the alternately restrained and ebullient Sibelius showing exceptional promise for the Finnish composer's second symphony, on this week's schedule with the NSO. The Kansas City players acquit themselves nobly, with the only quibble being the lengthy reverb of the recording venue, the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence, Mo. The acoustic, which rings in the silence after attacks or held chords, is cavernous, creating an effect on the CD that sounds almost canned.
See Michael Stern in action for yourself, beginning this evening and continuing through Saturday evening, at the helm of the National Symphony Orchestra tonight (7 pm), tomorrow afternoon (1:30 pm), and Saturday evening (8 pm). He will conduct two 20th-century symphonies, Barber's first and Sibelius's second, neither heard often enough, and Emanuel Ax will join for Beethoven's second piano concerto.