Bart—k, Jan‡cek

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok,Janacek
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Divertimento for strings
PERFORMER: Norwegian CO/Iona Brown
Strange how composers sometimes give their works misleading titles: if you expect Bartók’s Divertimento to be a piece of amusing froth you’d be way off the mark. The first movement may begin in a genial mood, but there’s something far more earthy about it, while the central Adagio contains music of real desolation. The finale is the most light-hearted movement, but even here, desperation seems to be bubbling below the surface. This performance brings out all these characteristics superbly, aided by a recording which gives the tuttis weight and coherence, but at the same time allows the details in the inner parts to come through. Especially impressive are the unanimity of phrasing and attack throughout the orchestra, and the balance between the individual lines: this really is a group thinking with one mind. And you needn’t worry about Northern coolness creeping into things: the outer movements have as much attack as you could ask for, as well as wit where it is required, and the Adagio simmers with tension under the surface. This is a work of Bartók’s maturity, but the two Janácek pieces are relatively early, with hardly any pointers towards the composer’s future style. What they need is the same sort of charm and easy lilt that inform a good performance of the Dvorák Serenade for Strings, and that is what they receive here. As in the Bartók, there’s real attention to line, balance and dynamics, and a natural rubato which grows directly out of the music. A winner and new benchmark. Martin Cotton