Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; The Miraculous Mandarin

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Concerto for Orchestra; The Miraculous Mandarin
PERFORMER: Laurenscantorij Chorus, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 458 841-2
This is a quite splendid disc, showcasing first-rate performances of two of Bartók’s most important scores in state-of-the-art sound. Chailly’s presentation of the Concerto for Orchestra is both epic and atmospheric, architectural and involving, bringing out its unique blend of symphonic and display elements, wicked wit and exile’s deep nostalgia for a lost and subjugated homeland. The control, precision and passion remind one of Fritz Reiner. Yet there is also an utter textural clarity that repeatedly had me reaching for the score, as details one had never consciously registered make a well-defined contribution to the whole. In the ‘Elegia’ movement, for once the four pizzicato violas that support the oboe-clarinet figuration from bar 54 give a real percussive edge to the music, and the after-echo con sordino thirds in the horns 20 bars later sound out proudly as no other performance lets them. Not even Boulez makes as much of Bartók’s writing in such places as these.

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It’s also very good to hear The Miraculous Mandarin so intelligently done, and welcome in its full version with the deeply elegiac death scene and the ad lib wordless chorus perfectly, ethereally balanced. Chailly secures a powerful interpretation, but a refined one, concentrating again on the sheer richness and strangeness of orchestral invention rather than the lurid quasi-Expressionist elements or the brutalist rhythms. The Concertgebouw plays as if inspired, and the ballet gains stature from the enhanced elements of pathos. To be fair Simon Rattle, with the same coupling, runs Chailly close, but I think the new disc has the edge in both works.