What's this? An Irish orchestra and a Japanese conductor doing the music of Edward MacDowell, the German-trained, American-born 19th-century composer of Scottish descent? Well, when Americans don't get behind one of the most formidably talented of their native sons--he was, after all, our country's greatest Romantic--things like that can happen. Not that this attention from foreign quarters isn't welcome. Naxos and its sister label, Marco Polo, have done very well by MacDowell over the years, releasing a wonderful four-CD overview of his solo piano music by the late, greatly lamented James Barbagallo, and also embarking on a survey of his orchestral works.
This installment in the series features the Ulster Orchestra in spirited and smartly played accounts of Suites Nos. 1 and 2, MacDowell's most substantial symphonic works. It follows hard on the heels of a brilliant recording of the piano concertos from pianist Stephen Prutsman and the Dublin-based National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, conducted by Arthur Fagen. Marvelous as the performances of the suites are--and they're well recorded, to boot--the filler, a reading of the symphonic poem Hamlet and Ophelia, comes as a letdown. Here, Yuasa and his Ulster charges are in competition with the vintage stereo recording by Karl Krueger and the Royal Philharmonic, reissued by Bridge in 1999. While Krueger's account gives the score a truly Lisztian weight and points up its indebtedness to Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, Yuasa, breezing through the piece in 13:21 (compared to Kreuger's 17:20), allows it to seem a bit like the work of an American Glazunov. Pity. --Ted Libbey
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