Curiously, we are given
all sorts of technical details about
this recording, but not the actual recording
dates or locations themselves. Still,
the recording is superb – it might be
argued the best part of this product.
The credentials of
Zoltan Kocsis in the music of Bartók
are well-nigh impeccable, given his
almost impossibly consistent Philips
series. This recording of the first
two concerti with a filler from another
location is fascinating in that one
performance is substantially more successful
than the other.
The First Concerto
is a huge challenge. It poses challenges
for the listener, too - the Second Concerto
is far more 'friendly'.
Kocsis eschews any
temptation to go for the primal in the
First Concerto. The emphasis is rather
on detail - superbly captured by the
clear recording. The piano sound is
bright, yet the recording captures the
depth of the piano/orchestra exchanges.
Kocsis's articulation is miraculous.
The concentration required
for the 'Night Music' slow movement
is huge, and Kocsis and Lehel miss it.
It appears rather on the clunky side,
with mystery at a low ebb. The louder
moments of course make their effect,
but this is not a performance to draw
one in. The finale, dynamic and active,
is much the best movement but is not
enough to make this a recommendation.
Stick to Pollini (Chicago SO/Abbado,
available at mid-price on 474 5402 AmazonUK).
The Second Concerto
fares much better - interestingly, including
its Night Music slow movement. As dates
are not available it is impossible to
tell if the two concertos were recorded
months/years apart or on consecutive
days, but there is no doubting Kocsis's
affinity to this work. Again, he is
keen to make the music dance where possible,
but there seems to be more energy here.
The pianist's command of tone is excellent,
and Lehel is entirely with his
pianist. This time there is more concentration
present for the slow movement - its
Presto scherzo episode positively daemonic.
The hectic finale is driven by its own
internal energy. The finger-work is
The Miraculous Mandarin
has always been one of Pierre Boulez's
favourite pieces of Bartók; most
recently he recorded it with the Chicagoans
on DG 447 7472 AmazonUK.
Strange that here we have a different
orchestra and conductor, moving away
from the home-grown to Stuttgart and
Marriner - note that this change of
personnel is not even mentioned on the
cover of the disc. Marriner's opening
swirls well enough, but with just a
hint of the studio about it. Bartók's
well-known scenario is a violent one;
one that brooks no compromises. Marriner
does not really capture the elemental
nature of the score, nor its mystery,
despite some excellent contributions
from his players - most notably the
A generally enjoyable
disc, then, but with no performance
approaching a first recommendation status.