Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste; Divertimento for Strings; Wooden Prince Suite; Two Portraits

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COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste; Divertimento for Strings; Wooden Prince Suite; Two Portraits
PERFORMER: Hungarian State SO/Adam Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: Nl 5362/3 DDD
Disc one is early Bartok, disc two late. There’s clearly some connection between what Stephen Walsh, in his excellent booklet notes, calls the ‘Straussian/Ravelian side’ of The Wooden Prince and the fact that this now lesser-known ballet was the only one of its composer’s three theatre works to gain immediate acclaim. The ‘real’ Bartok emerges in this work too, however, and Fischer and his Hungarian forces seem roused almost to garishness by the close of the river-music section and the final dance in this, the longer of the two available suites from the ballet by the composer himself. Elsewhere – though no fan of blatantly technicolour approaches to this composer, such as Solti’s -I missed the brilliance of both playing and recording that such a conductor might bring to both styles.

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The ardent solo playing in the first of the Two Portraits is eloquent testimony to the violinist Gerhart Hetzel, who died last year. The second disc in this set – which as a whole certainly provides value for money – offers workmanlike, occasionally over-cautious performances of two late Bartok classics: which – considering that there are currently 18 other versions of the Music for Strings and 14 of the Divertimento to choose from — isn’t nearly enough. If you just want The Wooden Prince, Jarvi offers both suite and complete ballet on Chandos. Keith Potter