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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Petrushka (Revised 1947 version) [36í00"]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945) The Miraculous Mandarin* [31í50"]
*Chor der Wiener Staatsoper
Wiener Philharmoniker/Christoph von Dohnányi
Recorded in the Sofiensaal, Vienna, December 1977 ADD


What a marvellous score is Petrushka! From start to finish the work is full of colour, incident and rhythmic vitality. All of this is very well conveyed in this vivid performance by Dohnányi and the VPO. Dohnányi brings the characters to life, aided by playing of pinpoint accuracy and strong profile.

The events of the score, from the bustle of the Shrovetide Fair to the pathetic death of Petrushka here unfold in a single narrative sweep. The colour and inventiveness of Stravinskyís orchestration and the skill of the conductor and players in realising it make this an exciting and involving narration. There were one or two points in the score where I wasnít entirely convinced by Dohnányiís way with the music. For instance in the third tableau I thought the passage following the waltz between the Moor and the Ballerina (track 3 from 4í23") was taken just a notch too steadily. In the following tableau some may feel the horns are a bit too prominent at one point (track 4, 1í43") but these are very minor quibbles indeed, which most certainly didnít detract from my enjoyment of a splendid and vital performance. Unless you insist on a recording of the more opulently scored original 1911 version of the score then this performance should do very nicely.

Petrushka is a work that, for all its colour, definitely has a dark side. However, this is as nothing compared to Bartókís sinister and macabre score, The Miraculous Mandarin. As you may gather from the inclusion of a choir in the artistís roster, this is a recording of the complete ballet score, with its rather extravagant use of a wordless chorus briefly towards the end. If anything I think that this score suits Dohnányi even better than Petrushka. Of course he has Hungarian roots, and he seems to be completely at home in the idiom of Bartókís music. He gets the VPO to play with great intensity, which means that the three Decoy Games, all helpfully tracked separately, are portrayed vividly. The entry of the Mandarin himself is a powerful moment and the girlís subsequent attempt to seduce him is laid out in lascivious detail, the passage building to a steamy climax. Then the Mandarinís pursuit of her is thrillingly articulated, with the snarling menace of the wind and brass playing a notable feature. The whole grotesque story is reported by the Decca engineers in superb sound and when the organ is added again to the scoring (track 11, 0í42") itís an overwhelming addition to the texture. Similarly, the contribution of the chorus (track 14) is expertly balanced by both conductor and engineers.

So, here we have first-rate performances of two of the most exciting scores in the twentieth-century ballet repertoire. Dohnányi has the full measure of the music and the VPOís playing is excellent. The sound, vintage Decca analogue and emanating from a venue with which that companyís engineers were so familiar, is very good indeed, reporting both detail and atmosphere (the percussion, for example, is most convincingly captured). This is a splendid re-issue and the disc can be recommended confidently.

John Quinn

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