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Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Concerto for Orchestra (1943) [39:44]
Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Concerto for Orchestra (1954) [29:45];
Fanfare for Louisville (c.1985/6) [1:29]
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra /Paavo Järvi
rec. Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1-2 May 2005. DDD
TELARC CD-80618 [71:40]

Paavo Järvi’s recordings with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for Telarc have to date made a feature of juxtaposing interesting repertoire on the same disc. To my knowledge this is the first time that the Bartók and Lutosławski concertos have been paired [but see footnote]. As the conductor himself asks in the booklet, “Is it possible that two works can share so much in common purely by accident?” In formal terms both works display their composers’ interest in the use of folk melodies and chorale structures as integral parts of a musical form. Who is to say if Bartók’s work directly influenced Lutosławski in the writing of his? One can only guess at the extent, but one thing is for sure both works show their composers’ love of their native lands in times of personal struggle.  Bartók’s struggle was with poor health, a decline in demand for his services as a solo pianist and emigration to the United States. Lutosławski’s struggle was faced on home soil in having to work under the crippling cultural dictates of Poland’s neo-Stalinist regime.
There are alternative versions of both works - several in respect of the Bartók concerto. It’s interesting to start, however, with the Lutosławski concerto. EMI’s release of the work as part of a 2 CD mid-price set – 8 73833 2, including Symphonies 1 and 2, Symphonic Variations, Musique funèbre, Jeux vénitiens, Livre pour orchestre and Mi-parti – is an essential part of any Lutosławskian’s discography owing to the fact that the composer himself conducts all the performances. In respect of the Concerto, Lutosławski consistently adopts swifter tempi than Paavo Järvi. Not only that but Järvi’s textures are always heavier than those Lutosławski draws from the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra. Alright, so Järvi’s orchestra is more polished in their playing, but for me that does not entirely work in their favour. In order to give variety within the overall body there is a reliance by Telarc on spotlighting individual orchestral lines so they get fully noticed: the cellos at the very opening of the piece or, later, horns that cut through an already thick texture with a little too much ease serve as but two examples. For my money the composer’s recording makes as great an impact but it gets there by a different route. There is more resonant space around the players and you are made to feel the effort that went into their playing.
The Fanfare for Louisville is a brief example of Lutosławski’s later style, written in thanks to the Louisville Orchestra whom the composer conducted in performances of his Third Symphony in 1985. Don’t let the relative brevity let you think there isn’t some dense writing here. Reliance on heavy brass textures marks out the work as does a requirement for the players to throw forth tightly knit bodies of sound with relative independence of their neighbours’ activity. Järvi and his Cincinnati orchestra don’t shy away from the challenges presented either.
Bartók’s concerto is just as demanding on the orchestra – indeed, more so one could say – and it is also a work that should have an almost indefinable mystery about it in performance, with distant dark shades of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the start perhaps brought to mind. Alternating with this one wants some measure of incisive rhythmic punch and clarity present in the wind and harp parts as they unfold. Järvi’s reading on the whole appears that little bit too cleanly phrased to leave any room for mystery, although he does give you plenty of rhythmic involvement when called for, though at first not as insistently as I had expected. The sense of flow between the sections of the music can seem a little artificial too: the result of pieced-together takes? If this sounds as if I don’t favour the recording at all, it’s not true. The playing can be thrilling in itself. Take the brass ensemble at around 8’20”–8’35” in the first movement and the whipped up ending, from 10’15” onwards, as examples of this. It just does not hang together as a single movement in the way it should.
The second movement, Gioco delle coppie, is on the whole better in appearing cut from one piece of cloth. The drumbeats at the start are cleanly though atmospherically given with the wind and string passages that follow crisply given. Brass lines are full and resonant. Good though it is to have a prominent string bass line there are times when the balance might have been a bit more in the winds’ favour. As the movement progresses some of the wit that could be profitably exploited gets a touch overlooked to really register. Elegia, the third movement, suffers a little from the same issue of balance. Might the adopted tempo be slightly too slow also before the full orchestral tutti kicks in? Intermezzo interrotto, the fourth movement, is in many ways the most successful of the concerto. It brings together subtle wind, brass and string playing to a degree that was lacking in earlier movements until the ‘rude’ interruptions of the brass interject. Järvi makes the most of those. The lengthy Finale kicks off well at a fair lick and maintains clean voicing of the instruments too, but things come a little unstuck with the arrival of the first tranquillo passage. After this a true tempo I – as Bartók requires – is not re-established. I can only question too why Järvi takes some 10’24” over the movement when the composer emphasised anything around a minute less would be acceptable. It cannot be denied though that Järvi goes for, and largely secures, an imposing conclusion to his reading.
Supported with useful notes this is a release I will revisit occasionally if the mood takes me, the Lutosławski performances more successful on the whole than the Bartók.

Evan Dickerson

We thank Todd Schurk for informing us that this coupling did appear on a Decca Dohnanyi/Cleveland recording (425 694-2 long oop)


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