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Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
The Wonderful Mandarin - suite for orchestra (1926) [18.29]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1945)
Also sprach Zarathustra - tone poem for large orchestra (1896) [31.47]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Rudolf Kempe
rec. Konzertmitschnitt Stuttgart Liederhalle, 12 January 1961
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 94.220 [50.27]

Bartók’s Dance-Pantomime, The Wonderful Mandarin is full of uncompromising and aggressively decadent music and very modern in idiom. Its storyline is sordid and squalid in the extreme. Three pimps in a foul backstreet room force a girl to lure men in to be beaten up and robbed. A new victim appears. It is a Chinese Mandarin. The girl dances seductively. The pimps rob him and then try to kill him in so many ways but to no avail. It is only when the girl has given herself to him that the Mandarin dies of his injuries.
 
Kempe’s keenly observed, energetic, detailed reading reveals the pitiless nature and the brutal, ruthless unfeeling violence of the pimps through unrelenting jagged dissonances and sour jazz figures; plus the self-loathing of the girl forced to dance so provocatively to a heavy menacing ostinato before she is moved to show pity and love to the hapless Mandarin.
 
The glorious ‘sunrise’ opening of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra will always be associated with the beginning of Kubrick’s film 2001 - A Space Odyssey. Kempe’s opening is magnificent indeed. Strauss was not interested in attempting to put Nietzsche’s philosophy into music but rather using it as the basis for a musical expression of his own sentiments. Kempe’s masterly reading of this opulent music is very much in the Late-Romantic tradition, full of drama, expression and atmosphere. Just listen to the sections marked ‘Of the great Longing’ and ‘Of Joys and Passions’ for instance to appreciate the unrestrained passion and excitement but at the same time the remarkable clarity and transparency of his readings. The enigmatic, unresolved closing pages of this work are given such probing luminosity here.
 
These recordings have been digitally re-mastered from the original SWR tapes.
 
A quite frightening Mandarin and a Zarathustra to treasure. Testimony to the prodigious flair of this great conductor.
 
Ian Lace
 
A quite frightening Mandarin and a Zarathustra to treasure. 

Masterwork Index: Also Sprach Zarathustra