AT A TIME of year when many Americans are going off to Europe, conductor James Conlon is coming home from Holland for a vacation visit. But it won't be all play: Saturday night on the West Lawn of the Capitol Conlon conducts the National Symphony in an Independence Day program devoted largely to American music.
In Europe, where he has been music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic for five years and has just been appointed chief conductor of the Cologne Opera, Conlon, 37, has developed a number of specialties in a wide range of styles, including the music of Liszt, Mozart's symphonies and the operas of Mussorgsky. Judging by what we can hear on records, he has refined the Rotterdam Philharmonic into an instrument of power, precision and finely controlled color. Next season, he will bring the orchestra on an American tour, so we can hear for ourselves.
Two of his recent recordings with that orchestra are dedicated to music of Liszt, and the quality of the interpretations shows why this New York native is in such demand internationally. On one (Erato ECD 88235), he plays some of Liszt's best-known orchestral works, including the grandiloquent "Les Preludes," the two episodes from "Faust" (including the popular "Mephisto" Waltz) and the devoutly colorful "Two Legends."
Less familiar but well worth knowing and beautifully interpreted is the "Dante" Symphony (Erato ECD 88162), which vividly describes Hell and Purgatory, but modestly substitutes a choral work ("Magnificat") to evoke the indescribable glories of heaven.
This music was intended to be played with colored projections of scenes from the "Divine Comedy," but no such performance happened during Liszt's lifetime, and the project was forgotten until 1984. Then, researchers for the Rotterdam Philharmonic tracked down the sketches that had inspired Liszt, and Conlon conducted the first performance that matched Liszt's original concept. Perhaps when he comes with the Rotterdam Philharmonic next season, Conlon will bring the slides for the "Dante" Symphony -- or perhaps Erato, which is getting heavily involved in video production, will issue a video recording. Meanwhile Liszt's music does quite well all by itself, particularly in this performance. JAMES CONLON --
Conducts the Rotterdam Philharmonic in Liszt's "Dante" Symphony (Erato ECD 88162) and other orchestral works (Erato ECD 88235). Appearing as guest conductor of the National Symphony Saturday at the Capitol.