ALBUM TITLE: Bartók
WORKS: The Wooden Prince
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.570534
The Wooden Prince was the first of Bartók’s stage works to be produced, but he actually began writing it in 1914, a couple of years after completing Bluebeard’s Castle. This charming ballet has been overshadowed by the opera and by the later Miraculous Mandarin, both of which sound more overtly progressive, helped by the disturbing elements of their plots. The Wooden Prince, by contrast, is a more lightweight affair, involving a mischievous fairy, a prince, and a princess, the latter falling in love with a wooden dummy of the prince. The real prince and princess are united at the end and, presumably, live happily ever after (assuming they have other people to think for them). Despite this, Bartók manages to find darker hues within the story, and the music is magnificent, showing his absorption of both folk music and Debussy’s orchestral innovations. As with their earlier Bartók releases, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop gives a fine, colourful and insightful account. The opening, in which Bartók essentially re-imagines Das Rheingold,, grows majestically from its initial murmur, and the ebb and flow of the dances is well paced. Iván Fischer’s Budapest account (Philips) is more ethereal in the mystical passages and more playful elsewhere, but it is only available on a three-disc set and, even without a filler, Alsop’s account belies its budget price.