Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Bela Bartok, Leon Botstein, London Philharmonic Orchestra|
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra; Four Orchestral Pieces; Hungarian Peasant Songs
A Bit Underdone
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 01/01/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The main work here, of course, is Bartók's 'Concerto for Orchestra,' and Botstein and the London Philharmonic Orchestra face stiff competition. No one has ever brought this piece to life better than Fritz Reiner in his classic recording with the Chicago Symphony coupled with a masterful performance of the 'Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta,' still available after all these years, and at mid-price. The thing that may impel someone to buy this CD is that it includes Bartók's original ending of the 'Concerto' and the practically unknown 'Four Orchestral Pieces, Op. 12' and 'Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op. 100.' The original ending, which is printed as an alternate ending in the orchestral score, has been recorded before and although Bartók indicated that he liked this ending, it is almost never played at least partly because it ends without the brilliant flourish of its successor. The original ending lasts only about a minute, has been recorded by Daniele Gatti and Leonard Slatkin (that I know of); it is hardly reason enough to buy this issue. Frankly, I am happy to hear it, but would never choose it over the ending that replaced it, the one we all know and thrill to. There are some nice moments in Botstein's and the LPO's performance but overall it is rather staid. The LPO's virtuosity is in evidence but their playing seems to be under some sort of restraint which I assume has to be coming from Botstein's direction. In his brief notes Botstein, a noted musicologist as well as conductor, says he resisted 'an overly intense focus on the composer's use of folk materials,' preferring to highlight the classical construction of the piece. That is as may be, but that decision drains much of the color out of the work. The jolly second movement ('Giuoco delle coppie'), a virtuoso piece if ever there was one, is too square and uninflected. It is in the darker parts of the piece (I and III, especially) that the piece comes to life. Overall, though, this is not a performance I will want to return to very often.
In the lesser known works performed here, Botstein and his orchestra have less competition and indeed these performances are quite good. But this is also not top-drawer Bartók and I suspect few musiclovers other than Bartók completists would want them. Of the six movements in these two collections, I am particularly struck by movement IV of the Four Orchestra Pieces, 'Marcia funèbre,' which sounds as if it could have been taken from one of Bartók's brutalist scores such as 'The Miraculous Mandarin' or 'The Wooden Prince.' It's exciting and atmospheric.