Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Kossuth

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Concerto for Orchestra; Kossuth
PERFORMER: San Francisco Symphony/Herbert Blomstedt
CATALOGUE NO: 443 773-2 DDD
If the number of recordings is anything to go by, Bartók’s late great Concerto for Orchestra must be nearing ‘pop classic’ status. Ozawa’s with the Boston SO is live, and so can’t compete with Blomstedt (or indeed most of the others) in terms of polish and accuracy. And it must be said that the audience noise is a distraction at the hushed opening. But it does make for exciting listening. Yes, the brass is overbalanced, wincingly so in certain passages, but the performance, both of this and the blood-curdling Miraculous Mandarin, has a wonderfully keen edge to it.

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Which isn’t to imply that the Blomstedt is tame. His rendition of the second movement of the Concerto is faster even than Ozawa’s, and the care over details of articulation and dynamics rivals Rattle’s version on EMI. The recording is better balanced too, although as with Ozawa the strings seem less vivid than the rest of the orchestra. His version is coupled with Bartók’s early tone poem Kossuth, a fluent imitation of a Strauss tone poem with sudden reminiscences of Liszt. For the best version of the Concerto, Boulez and the Chicago SO are still out in front; for a recording coupled with the Mandarin the Rattle version is the best. Ivan Hewett