Kent Nagano conducts Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Concerto for Orchestra

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COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Bartók
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 2; Concerto for Orchestra
PERFORMER: Augustin Dumay (violin); Montréal Symphony Orchestra/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4138  

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A few repressed coughs give away the origin of these recordings in live concerts, and that’s very much borne out in the feeling that French violinist Augustin Dumay is taking more risks than he would in a studio recording. His first entry is very upfront and decisive, and this is a performance on the wing, as is evident in his use of rubato, and his willingness to modify dynamics to maximise projection.

There’s plenty of detail in the sound, which allows Kent Nagano’s control of the Montréal Symphony Orchestra to come through. Both he and Dumay capture the tranquil mood of the central Andante, although I could have wished for a more yielding tone in the solo line. In the finale, the changes of mood and sonority are beautifully done, and this movement comes off best.

The upper strings could do with more presence at the opening of the Concerto for Orchestra, although the balance seems to shift around, and I sense, more than in the Violin Concerto, close microphone positioning and artificial reverb. Nagano’s tempo is rather too relaxed in the second movement, not taking account of the correction of a long misprinted metronome mark, and the music lacks energy and tension. In the ‘Elegia’, it’s not so much a matter of tempo, but a lack of edge to some of the string attacks that tends to deflate the music. The ‘Intermezzo’ is on surer ground, with the Bartókian interruption nicely paced and humorous, and the Finale is a good romp: but there are more consistent and better recorded versions out there (for instance, try Iván Fischer’s Budapest Festival Orchestra on Philips).

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Martin Cotton