Bart—k/Lutoslawski

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bartók/Lutoslawski
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Concerto for Orchestra
PERFORMER: Royal Stockholm PO/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-14909-2
There are few more enthralling demonstrations of orchestral virtuosity than these two mid-20th-century scores. Yet a really satisfying performance of either work can be elusive if conductors exploit technical brilliance to the detriment of projecting the emotional vulnerabilities that lie beneath the surface.

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Fortunately, Andrew Davis resists the temptation to interpret the Lutoslawski merely as an orchestral showpiece. In the opening Intrada, he drives the music with a demonic energy – the awesome power of the movement’s climax unequivocally reflecting the composer’s defiance in the face of Stalinist oppression. While the rest of the performance doesn’t quite sustain this level of urgency, there are plenty of impressive moments, not least the magical, if almost inaudible, opening to the Passacaglia and the wonderfully fleet of foot Capriccio.

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Given the excellence of the Lutoslawski, it is somewhat disappointing to find that the Bartók registers a much lower level on the Richter scale. True, there are some finely judged sections – the opening, for example, raises great expectations, with a marvellous, shimmering, almost Debussian texture. But the tension, both here and in the finale, isn’t sustained beyond the first big orchestral tutti. The slower music, too, lacks emotional involvement, Davis in particular failing to invoke the desolate landscape that is so reminiscent of the composer’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle. Erik Levi