Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
PERFORMER: Los Angeles Philharmonic/Esa-Pekka Salonen
These two masterpieces make an obvious CD pairing: Bartók’s last work for orchestra alone, symphonic in its ambition and coherence, composed in wartime America, and his highly original essay in combining double string orchestra with piano, celesta, harp and percussion, reflecting the tensions of Europe in the Thirties. Both demand virtuoso playing and they get it from every section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But Salonen seems unable to coax from his string players all the gradations of intensity, of bowing and vibrato, which bring this music to life, and the wind players miss much of Bartók’s wit and humour in the Concerto. The result is performances which – despite occasional startling bursts of speed from Salonen – rarely rise above the routine, and certainly never begin to rival Fritz Reiner’s blazing RCA recordings with the Chicago Symphony in the Fifties. Perhaps, even at the cost of a little of the pinpoint clarity of Sony’s recording, it would have been better to have captured these works in live performances. This issue sounds like what it is: a product of Studio City, California. Anthony Burton