Music from the Machine Age
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Scythian Suite (1915) [21:12]
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Ogelala - Suite (1921-25) [12:35]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
The Miraculous Mandarin - Suite, op.19 (1917-24) [20:43]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Perfect Fool – ballet music (1923) [11:40]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
La Valse (1921) [14:02]
Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra/Sascha Goetzel
rec. Istinye, Istanbul, 11-15 June 2011. DDD
ONYX 4086 [80:15]
Another recording of Ravel's La Valse? Yet this disc may be dismissed by music-lovers only at their own risk. Turkish orchestras do not, as a rule, enjoy much of a reputation internationally, but the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic under their dynamic Austrian conductor Sascha Goetzel are out to change that. This jam-packed programme of exciting 20th century ballet music builds massively on their impressive debut disc (see enthusiastic review).

The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic has the dubious distinction of being the only major orchestra whose bills are all paid by big business - in this case, by Borusan, "a leading industrial conglomerate in Turkey". On the other hand, there is no question that the BIPO (or BIFO in Turkish), made up almost entirely of ethnic Turkish musicians, are playing a key role in bringing Western art music to Turkish audiences, for which Borusan's financial support can only be applauded.
Goetzel's novel, fascinating programme brings together five ballet-based works from the period between the two World Wars, reflecting "the edgy, dangerous and turbulent political and social landscape of the period." All the music probably owes a debt to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring; the works, some familiar and some not, are generally splanchnic, almost pagan in their earthy, pulsating rhythms and dicing with dissonance.
Goetzel says somewhat flippantly in an interview that "if anybody dares to listen to the whole CD in one without a break he'll have to go to the pub immediately, because it's so intense." That does not apply at least to Holst's Perfect Fool, which is noticeably lighter, more 'Britannically' orchestrated, with echoes not only of the Rite of Spring but of the music of The Planets that Holst had not long published. Ravel's La Valse is more at odds with the rest of the programme. A pity perhaps that the paradigm of ballet-derived 'machine' music, Alexander Mosolov's Zavod ('Iron Foundry'), did not appear in its place - indeed, the Siegestanz from Schulhoff's outstanding Ogelala Suite is rhythmically highly reminiscent of it, although it does in fact slightly predate it. But with La Valse included, this is an extremely generously timed CD at just over 80 minutes, and it must therefore welcome in that respect; yet also for the very leisurely pace the BIPO take. Few recordings fall outside the twelve to twelve-and-a-half minute range. This is almost three minutes slower than a 1940 Toscanini whizz-through. Goetzel's open-top 'slow decay' suits the music well too, and the frenzied quality of the final few bars still obtains.
From beginning to end the BIPO are impressive, playing with expressive insight or pyrotechnic agility as required, especially in Ogelala and Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin. They’re always commandingly directed by Goetzel. The stereo is fairly narrow, but sound quality is pretty good. Well-written, informative notes are by Martin Anderson, with translations into German, French and Turkish.
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A jam-packed programme of exciting 20th century ballet music … impressive.