first of Bartók’s three piano concertos was composed in
his full creative maturity in 1926. By emphasising the rhythmic
element the concerto radiates a tremendous energy. The rather
curt thematic material appears to be almost in contrast
with rhythmic and contrapuntal complexity. Bartók wrote
that the structure of the score proved difficult for both
orchestra and audience alike. Five years later, however,
with his Second Concerto, Bartók made the score less challenging
for the orchestra with more appealing themes for the audience.
First performed in 1933, the work blends popular and light
themes with episodes of the same barbaric rhythmic force
that characterises other works by Bartók of the same period.
In these two piano concertos the soloist Zoltan Kocsis proves
himself an intelligent and controlled interpreter. They
do not however have the same authority, characterisation
and insights of his acclaimed complete set with Ivan Fischer
and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Philips 446 366-2).
The highly notorious and controversial pantomime-ballet
The Miraculous Mandarin, was composed in 1918, when Bartók was 36 years old. The rich and turbulent
score demonstrates Bartók’s very personal musical vocabulary
and marks an angry and unsettled, exploratory stage in his
development. This was stern stuff to exhibit on stage and
it certainly divided opinion. The magazine Musical America
described the score as, “ ... inspired ... its
clever combinations of instruments, and wonderful harmonic
effects are completely fascinating.”
Szenkar, the Hungarian-born conductor of the Cologne premičre described the score as, “…a magnificent work, which later found world-wide acclaim…
The piece was very difficult and unusually complicated for
an orchestra of that time… At the end of the performance
we were confronted with a chorus of whistling and booing.”
The Lord Mayor of Cologne asked to see Maestro
Szenkar and received
him in a cool and reserved manner. He then blurted out the
bitterest accusation, questioning how it could ever have
crossed his mind to perform such a dirty piece. He then
asked for it to be dropped immediately.
is best known these days as an Orchestral Suite played
in six continuous sections, made up primarily from the first
two-thirds of the score. In a highly colourful account Marriner
conducts with considerable enthusiasm and a high degree
of vitality. Especially convincing is the tutti fortissimo
section that heralds the appearance of the Mandarin where
Marriner’s interpretation is far more chilling than many
I admire this account of the suite, my preferred recording is the famous 1963 Kingsway
Hall version from Solti and the LSO (Decca Legends 467 686-2).
Maestro Solti certainly cranked-up the LSO into a complete
frenzy and with tremendous power and dynamism marvellously
realises the overtly harrowing depravity and vicious nature
of the score. For those who insist on the complete ballet, perhaps the best alternative is the award-winning recording
from Ivan Fischer with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and
the Hungarian Radio Choir (Philips 454 430-2).
sound quality, as played on a normal CD player, is of a
high standard as are the interesting and informative liner
notes. Strangely the recording dates and locations are omitted.
is a fine Bartók release from Capriccio, if not the preferred
version of each work.
see also Review
by Colin Clarke