With two recent Vanguard releases -- Franck's Symphony in D minor and Debussy's La Mer and Nocturnes -- the Houston Symphony Orchestra keeps its solid reputation. Under the skilled baton of Sergiu Comissiona, Houston is making music variously brilliant and brooding.
Franck's majestic masterpiece, which he composed at age 65, begins ruminatively, then bursts with contrapuntal energy; the second movement features lyrical woodwind solos, while the third supplies an explosive, brassy climax.
The Houston Symphony's performance, each gesture cleanly executed, heads home with cumulative force and beauty. Comissiona has brought to his interpretation a sense of the grand scale, where even the most intimate impulse -- the English horn's simple melody in the second movement, for instance -- fits into a magnificent whole.
Perhaps diehard fans of Debussy would find the second album just as satisfying; I did not. La Mer is a work that swirls and sways in particulate waves; Houston's performance is true but rarely rises above sea level. The Nocturnes -- Nuages, F.etes and Sirenes -- sound variously brisk, bright and schmaltzy. Listening to the last, which features the Women of Houston Symphony Chorale singing "AAAAAAA-OOOOOOO," I half expected Esther Williams to pop all wet and shining out of the grooves. ON RECORD, IN CONCERT THE ALBUMS HOUSTON SYMPHONY -- Debussy's La Mer and Nocturnes (Vanguard VA 25015), Franck's Symphony in D minor (Vanguard VA 25016) THE CONCERT HOUSTON SYMPHONY, in a program of Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff, this Sunday at 8 in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall.