Bartók: Concerto For Orchestra; Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Two quintessential Bartók works in fine performances, and at an irresistible price. The Concerto for Orchestra, in particular, is a piece that suits Marin Alsop down to the ground, and one that allows her to put her Baltimore players through their paces. It’s a score that covers a lot of ground, from the veiled mystery of its slow introduction and of the opening half of its elegiac middle movement, through the wry wit of the ‘Game of Pairs’ second movement and the less subtle humour of the ‘interrupted’ intermezzo with its dig at the banal side of Shostakovich, to the excitement and brashness of the finale with its ‘blue note’ trumpet theme. Alsop responds to all these facets of the piece with both intelligence and vitality, producing a vivid performance.
The Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is a harder piece to bring off. It’s one of Bartók’s most fascinatingly original scores, and its sound-world encompasses some cruelly exposed string writing – not made any easier by the fact that the players are divided into two spatially separated groups. There are one or two small lapses of intonation here and there in this performance, but more serious is the fact that the long opening stage of the initial fugal movement, marked pianissimo throughout, doesn’t sound sufficiently hushed. In other respects, however, this is an impressive account. If you’re unfamiliar with these seminal mid-20th century works, here’s an unmissable chance of getting to know it.