Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion; Romanian Dances

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Bartok
WORKS: Concerto for Orchestra; Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion; Romanian Dances
PERFORMER: Heini Karkkainen, Paavali Jumppanen, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 61947
There have been so many fine recordings of the Concerto for Orchestra that a newcomer has to be something special. Sakari Oramo and his players offer a lightness of touch and clarity of texture that seem to be a Finnish characteristic (think Salonen, or Vänskä). The opening isn’t the murky emergence from primeval mud that it can be in more Romantically inclined hands – Koussevitzky in his early performances, or the unexpectedly indulgent Solti – and Oramo keeps the music going all the way to the first violin outburst, where he notches up the tempo. And there I begin to lose him, because I want some weight at that point. In the second movement the side drum starts at the correct metronome speed, but slows down when the bassoons enter, and never settles to a consistent tempo, unlike Boulez. And though the ‘Elegia’ is no faster overall than many others, it constantly seems to be hurrying. On the other hand, the tempos are controlled and well related in the ‘Intermezzo interrotto’, but the finale again contains some bizarre stop-starts. For a coherent view of the piece, with organic rubato and real Hungarian flavour, look to Iván Fischer.

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The Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion is a good deal better, perhaps because the pianists have such a firm grasp on the pulse, and the orchestra is audible, not always the case in recordings of the piece. And best of all are the Romanian Dances, played with insouciant rubato and flair. Too little, too late. Martin Cotton