C1831. CHRISTOPHER KEENE Cond. Syracuse S.O.: Symphony #2 in E-flat (Elgar), Live Performance, 5 March, 1984; La Mer (Debussy), Live Performance, 30 April & 1 May, 1976. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1057. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This disc is Volume 6 in the ongoing series of St. Laurent Studio releases of performances by Christopher Keene. As with Volume 5, which featured a first-rate Shostakovich 10th Symphony and a passable but unremarkable Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms, this is also of mixed quality. LA MER is absolutely thrilling, and could easily be the one and only recorded performance in a collector’s library. Keene’s account is not one that features either an Impressionistic haze of blended sound colors found in many versions, nor the kind of razor-sharp digital-photo resolution that one expects from, say, Pierre Boulez. Instead, leaning towards clarity of textures, its hallmarks are ones of verve, drive, and rhythmic vitality. The Elgar symphony is more of a mixed bag. There is no doubting the passionate commitment with which both Keene and the orchestra come to this work, and that counts for a good deal. But Keene does not have a full grasp of Elgar’s often unorthodox interplay of thematic and instrumental elements, and consequently plows through many sections in a rather heavy-handed manner. The scherzo in particular plods, lacking both fluidity and the underlying puckish sense of humor. But all is forgiven and forgotten in the Larghetto, a heart-rending account that could make a stone weep, and the beatific resolution in the final pages of the finale. Originally I wrote off this performance as a dud, but coming back to it multiple times unlocked its not inconsiderable better aspects. Still, the main recommendation here is for the Debussy. As usual, St. Laurent provides only a tray card with tracks, timings, and photos.”
- James A. Altena, FANFARE