As far as I can
tell, this is Sakari Oramo’s first recording with his new Helsinki
Orchestra on Warner Classics; an earlier disc of Uuno Klami
was released by these forces on Ondine. The only problem I can
find is that there are already some fifty odd competing readings
in the catalogue. It makes me wonder how Warner Classics thought
that it could possibly be a success, given the competition from
such Bartók experts as Reiner, Ivan Fischer, Ančerl and
the like. However, this disc has one thing going for it very
strongly, and that is the coupling. As far as I can tell there
is no other recording which couples the Concerto for Orchestra
with the Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion.
In the latter work,
there is far less competition; only four in number. So if this
combination appeals to you, this may factor clinch some sales.
This would not be likely if the performances were flawed, but
I am happy to say that this is definitely not the case. In common
with a number of other European Orchestras, the Finnish Radio
Symphony Orchestra has gradually been improving in quality until
upon this evidence they can be very proud of this superb recording.
Oramo builds on
the reputation he has achieved in Birmingham. I have high hopes
for other recordings from this source. The Warner recording
quality is of very good broadcast standard, and there are no
problems in this area.
the Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion by starting with
the score of his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion which
he had written in 1937. When he arrived in America he formed
a piano duo with his wife, Ditta, and they spent time giving
concerts to help swell their funds. He decided to write a concerto
for both of them, and used his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
as the basis for the composition. He took the chamber score
and added the orchestral parts but only in the lightest fashion.
The work was first
performed in London in November 1942, and later the following
January in New York with Fritz Reiner conducting the New York
Philharmonic. At this concert Bartók apparently unnerved both
his wife and Reiner, by improvising at the keyboard supporting
a mistake made by one of the percussionists. This was to be
Bartók’s last public appearance as a pianist; not long afterwards,
he collapsed and was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. His friends
rallied around him, and were able to raise funds to keep his
medical bills at bay. Friends also persuaded Sergei Koussevitsky
to commission a new orchestral work for the Boston Symphony
Orchestra. Bartók felt unable to fulfil the commission, but
whilst convalescing he was inspired by the American start of
the second World War, and set to work on the Concerto for Orchestra.
This received its
first performance in 1944 from the Boston Symphony Orchestra
under Sergei Koussevitsky. Such was its success that it notched
up a further five performances in Boston and New York alone.
It has enjoyed similar popularity ever since and is still played
regularly in concert halls throughout the world. Its attraction
is no doubt due to the fact that Bartók was able to incorporate
Hungarian and other folksongs throughout the score. It is generally
recognised as one of the most accessible of Bartók’s scores.
The only criticism
of these performances is that of a very slight feeling of everyone
being on autopilot; not something you could possibly apply to
the other performances mentioned earlier.
However this is
very slight, and if you want this particularly rare coupling,
then you may purchase without any hesitation.
The brief, very
well played Roumanian Dances enhance the disc, but do not materially
affect the overall effect.