Eduardo Mata was a special kind of talent, a world-class conductor whose American engagements were with orchestras in mid-size cities such as Phoenix and Dallas, a strong proponent of Latin American orchestral music and a Latin American composer himself, at least in his youth. His career was disappointingly short, curtailed at age 53 owing to an accident in Mata's own Piper aircraft during an emergency landing. Dorian Sono Luminus' six-disc box collection Dallas Symphony Orchestra: The Eduardo Mata Years documents the recordings Mata made with Dallas for the original Dorian label dating from 1991-1993, the tail end of his tenure in Dallas, which began in 1977.
Most, if not all, of the material included consists of standard repertoire choices: Stravinsky's Le Sacre, Alexander Nevsky and the Scythian Suite of Prokofiev, suites of Respighi including The Pines of Rome, Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony and his Ninth, works of Chausson and Ibert, Bernstein's On the Waterfront, Roy Harris' Third Symphony, and Copland's Billy the Kid. Time has neither dimmed the immediacy and brilliant fidelity of Dorian's excellent recording quality -- all of these recordings were made in Dallas' newly minted Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, which went up during Mata's tenure -- nor the power and urgency of Mata's interpretations. Mata and Dallas' recordings of Copland for RCA and EMI were already justly famous before the contract with Dorian began; the Billy the Kid here represents a further refinement of their aptitude with Copland. The Shostakovich Leningrad is certainly one of the clearest and direct recordings ever done of this popular and somewhat notorious warhorse; while it may not have the intensity that some performances display -- notably Bernstein's account of the same work with Chicago -- it is an energetic, bold, and powerful reading, carefully sculpted to obtain its effect rather than built from a foundation of impetuosity. That's not a bad way to typify Mata's Apollonian approach; coordination and control are king, spontaneity is back burnered most of the time, but witness what dividends this yields in the "Battle on the Ice" section of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky; it's damn impressive.
Of course, for many symphony-goers in Dallas there was a lot more to this than all of the foregoing. Dorian Sono Luminus' choice of subtitle -- "The Eduardo Mata Years" -- is apt, as many view the years of Mata's tenure as representing a Golden Age of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The box is deluxe; it comes with a handsome 44-page booklet and costs considerably less than a Dress Circle seat at the Meyerson itself. You can make room for Dorian Sono Luminus' Dallas Symphony Orchestra: The Eduardo Mata Years on your shelf; it documents the summit of a conductor and orchestra combination that clicked.