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you are looking for a good, idiomatic performance of the Concerto,
this is not it.
a long time Fritz Reiner’s classic Chicago performance of
the Bartók Concerto (reissued as a Living Presence
SACD 828766139) has held sway – and rightly so. More recently
Pierre Boulez made an excellent recording with the same forces,
coupling the Concerto and Op. 12 pieces (DG 437 8262).
Given these illustrious precedents the Botstein/LPO performances
need to be very special indeed.
combination of Telarc and the LPO in a proven acoustic (Walthamstow
Town Hall) promises much but ultimately it’s up to the conductor
to deliver. The only other Botstein disc I’ve heard is the
Gličre Il’ya Murometz (Telarc CD80609). This didn’t
strike me as particularly memorable, but that may have more
to do with Gličre than Botstein.
opening bars of the Introduzione, atmospherically recorded
as they are, don’t augur well, sounding curiously lacklustre
- that tune at 2:10 always reminds me of Duke Bluebeard. The
climax that follows is not nearly as incisive as it can be
and Botstein doesn’t find as much colour in the writing as
others - Boulez especially. But perhaps the most grievous
failing is the orchestra’s general lack of thrust and bite.
Even that rhythmic passage that begins at 8:56 sounds hopelessly
second movement, translated as ‘Presentation of the pairs’,
is in five sections with different pairs of instruments playing
together in each. It doesn’t start well, with some decidedly
low-key side-drum taps. The pizzicato strings are lithe enough
and the brass playing is polished but infuriatingly this
music just refuses to leap off the page. Even worse the folk-like
rhythms lack point or spring. This is not supermarket music,
and it deserves much, much better than it gets here.
what of the ‘night music’ of the Elegia? The harp swirls
sound suitably spectral but in truth there isn’t much to
be afraid of here. The orchestral eruption at 2:00 is certainly
mighty but completely devoid of menace. Telarc’s recording
seems less potent than usual, too. That said there is some
welcome bite and tingle in the percussion but this doesn’t
even begin to ameliorate what is a most peculiar reading
of this great work.
quotation of the banal march theme from Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony
in the fourth movement is an extended raspberry that, for
some reason, doesn’t sound as grotesque or derisive as usual.
Perhaps that’s the real problem here, that the playing is
just too polite and well mannered for this work.
finale begins rather more successfully, with better articulation
in the fugato passages and more bounce to the rhythms. The
new-found animation hints at what might have been, with some
exhilarating playing and a real sense of character and personality.
The ‘grand gesture’ at the close has an alternative that
is included here (track 12). The latter is much more ambiguous
than the conventional ending and suits this highly ambivalent
work rather well.
Orchestral Pieces were first published by Universal
Edition as an expensive lithographed full score in 1923
and it was only when Boosey & Hawkes printed it in
the 1980s that this enchanting music became more widely
known. The ripple of harps in the Preludio suggests a world
far removed from the angst and bitterness of the Concerto. Indeed,
there is something of the fluidity and lyricism that permeates Bluebeard and
Botstein draws some lovely playing from all sections of
the LPO. Even the recording seems to blossom more naturally
in the tuttis, with less of that ‘wall of sound’ effect. It’s
also a real pleasure to hear the orchestra more engaged
with the music and playing with their usual warmth and
wild Scherzo has much more in common with Miraculous Mandarin, with
its thumping bass and sense of barely controlled hysteria.
The brass really bay and snarl, the woodwind play with obvious
relish and that fabulous Telarc bass drum comes across very
well at the end. This is music-making of another order entirely;
it’s such a pity it comes so late in the day.
is more lyrical in the Intermezzo, the quieter moments full
of atmosphere and subtle instrumental shading. By contrast
the funeral march is altogether more vehement, scarifying
even, and the crushing weight of the orchestra is very well
caught by the engineers. And that ghostly snatch of a Mahlerian
funeral procession at 5:00 is neatly done.
is nothing gaunt or haunted about the Peasant Songs, which
show Bartók at his folk-like best. This music may have been
written as ’for money’ as the composer admitted in a letter
to his mother but they are attractive, tuneful pieces that
surely deserve to be heard more often. In the Hungarian Peasant
Dance the LPO winds are wonderfully alive to the music’s
rhythms and Botstein ensures a welcome degree of buoyancy
and momentum throughout.
you are looking for a good, idiomatic performance of the Concerto this
is not it – try Reiner or Boulez instead. That said Botstein
makes amends with the attractive fillers, which are very
well played indeed. On the strength of these, and especially
at mid-price, this disc is well worth a spin.
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