WORKS: The Wooden Prince; Dance Suite
PERFORMER: Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: 454 429-2
Hard on the heels of Philips’s superb Miraculous Mandarin from Fischer and his select Hungarian orchestra (reviewed last August) comes an equally impressive account of Bartók’s other ballet score, The Wooden Prince. Completed in 1916, this is an apparently flimsy fairy story about a princess who is attracted more by a puppet replica of a prince than by the prince himself. Fischer negotiates the detailed action with great clarity (though nowhere, in two separate notes and the track list, are we told exactly what is meant to be happening on stage); but he also shows great sympathy for the thrilling nature music which is the glory of this underestimated score. As before, the recording is a touch close and dry, but the full orchestral sound is convincingly integrated, and there is great clarity of detail. The balance also spotlights some exceptionally well-characterised woodwind playing in a lively account of the 1923 Dance Suite.
Bartók’s late orchestral masterpiece, the 1943 Concerto for Orchestra, is the main work on the Conifer disc, Daniele Gatti’s first for the label as music director of the RPO. The virtuoso writing of this brilliant showpiece clearly holds no terrors for the orchestra, the brass in particular. But the slightly cloudy acoustics of the Henry Wood Hall, an occasional lack of precision in the strings’ attack, and some slow speeds and exaggerated rallentandos, all prevent the concerto from making its full impact. And Gatti’s reading of the 1939 Divertimento for strings is even more lacking in intensity: I never expected this nervously wrought piece to remind me of the massive calm of the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia.