Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Four Orchestral Pieces, Op. 12; Hungarian Peasant Songs

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Concerto for Orchestra; Four Orchestral Pieces, Op. 12; Hungarian Peasant Songs
PERFORMER: LPO/Leon Botstein
The Concerto for Orchestra gets off to a fine start, with clear, detailed recording, and it’s good to hear the first and second violins split left and right. But the string outburst in the introduction is short on passion, as are the similar passages in the slow movement later on. And when the Allegro vivace arrives, allegro it may be, but vivace it ain’t – there’s speed, but the energy level flags, especially in the two tranquillo sections, and it’s not helped by Botstein’s habit of making slight slowings-down at the ends of phrases. This trait is more irritating in the second movement, which starts out at Bartók’s prescribed speed, as pairs of wind instruments chase playfully across the scene, but slows down for the clarinets, and never really recovers. Strangely, in the ‘Intermezzo interrotto’, the big tune is on the fast side, and you can almost hear the orchestra willing Botstein to relax. The finale begins sluggishly, but the central fugal section surprised me with its speed and concentration, and from there to the end, it’s almost like a different performance. A pity Botstein couldn’t hit the groove four-and-a-half movements earlier. I’d still go back to Reiner and the Chicago SO: although recorded almost 50 years ago, it has the knife-edge precision which Botstein lacks. He’s more comfortable in the steamier world of the early Orchestral Pieces, where you can hear Bartók paying his dues to Debussy and Richard Strauss, though again there’s formidable competition from Chicago, this time with Boulez. Martin Cotton