This is a goodish performance of the Concerto for Orchestra, but if you want something with a lots more in the way of guts and first then you'll need to look elsewhere. Kocsis, Fischer, Solti (either) and Boulez (either) all deliver something that is altogether more - well - temperamental. Choose one of those if you only want one version, but read on if you want more detail.
The opening Introduzione has plenty of atmosphere, with an almost song-like quality to the lower strings. The very searching flute melody is well done, but I was left wondering if more clarity would have helped with the trumpet lines that follow - the recording really seems to blunt the impact of the brass here. The strings certainly don't sound muffled and play with a pleasing sheen, though it does seem somewhat `polite', quite without the lacerating effect of Fischer's Budapest Festival Orchestra. The faster sections that follow continue in an easy-going and quite unconfrontational vein. Around 5 minutes in the woodwinds seem to create a magically mysterious atmosphere, and this is nicely broken up by a trumpet that now sounds clearer, but overall it is more of a `searching', introspective first movement than you might find elsewhere. The horns just sound too reticent, and at the close of the movement the strings need to sound a lot more tense and agitated, I reckon.
The next movement starts rather well with playful bassoons singing their tune with plenty of wit. I don't care much for the North American Oboe sound, and this Orchestra is no exception - it sounds like it's simply trying too hard to play on the elegiac nature of the instrument - but it's still fun. But why are the trumpets so reticent in their section? They play well, but where is the character? There's a lovely rounded tone from the lower brass next, but it all sounds just a touch over-rehearsed and lacking in character. But at least the horns now play with more confidence. Couldn't the lower strings dig into their accents just a little more, though?
The Elegia has wonderful mystery at the start and really brought to mind Bluebeard's Castle for me. Those bubbling, burbling clarinets play wonderfully well. Time and again the woodwinds seem to be outdoing the rest of the Orchestra, and this movement is clearly no exception. Finally the trumpets seem to have plenty more punch when they interrupt, lending the whole movement much more urgency than I was expecting. The lack of heft in the middle strings does seem to be an issue in places, but overall the atmosphere seems right. But I just wonder if there is enough purpose and direction. Repeated listening is likely to reveal a lack of staying power. The music seems to lose its way in places, suggesting a string of rehearsals rather than a coherent whole. It also feels like there is an attempt to beautify the work, and this isn't always going to be good news. That said, the quiet horn calls at the close of this movement recall Ravel and Debussy. An interesting touch.
The Oboe tone works better at the start of the next movement, but the strings don't exactly set the World alight when they play the sinuous main theme. The jaunty central section is carried off brilliantly by the clarinets and - wonder of wonders - the brass! But the bottom line is that the strings really aren't quite up to the same standard. The weight of tone - or lack thereof - means that they sound like they are simply trying too hard at times. The flutes, on the other hand, join the clarinets in distinguishing themselves. For some reason these winds seem to understand the idiom rather better than the rest of the Orchestra.
And so to the finale. I was dreading the rushing strings at the start by this stage. Fortunately Alsop takes is slowly enough for them to kind of keep up. Some of it IS scrambled, but then so were the Chicagoans under Boulez! Again the Horns at the start don't really punch through, but at least the lower strings are starting to dig in a bit, and the brass are punching more. As throughout the rest the woodwinds, including those characterful bassoons win the day. In fact they are so good that the performance is saved to an extent. And the bluesy trumpets are really great at this point. There would be more adrenalin with more sparkle, but it's all fine. Just fine, with a nice upward glissando on the Timpani, very well judged. String articulation sounds a little slack in places, adding to the sense that direction and momentum are being lost, but the Orchestra is clearly enjoying itself. Of course at the very close things suddenly catch fire - how could it not - but by that time the opportunity seems to have been missed.
At the end of the day it isn't Alsop's conducting that's in question here (apart from in the disjointed Elegia), as that's generally thoughtful and all of a piece. But the Orchestra just doesn't have the heft it needs. The strings and brass are just a little too dull and lacking weight. So overall the impression is one of an opportunity missed. A better Orchestra may well have served as a more telling vehicle for Alsop's interpretation.
At this stage I have gone on too much. All I'll say about the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste is that the string tone is better - weightier - because it has to be. Alsop flexes her muscles nicely, and I generally find this a little more recommendable.
Overall, then, 3 stars. It's `nice' but not great.