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Bartók: The Wooden Prince; Dance Suite

WDR Sinfonieorchester/Cristian Măcelaru (Linn Records)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

The Wooden Prince; Dance Suite
WDR Sinfonieorchester/Cristian Măcelaru
Linn Records CKD 714   74:14 mins

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Though The Wooden Prince, the second of  Bartók’s three stage works to be composed, may be the least known of these, that is no reflection of its musical strengths. Cristian Măcelaru’s new recording with the WDR Sinfonieorchester, of which he is chief conductor, is vividly appealing and captured in sound of great warmth, even lushness. But then the score is more lush than its sometime companion piece, the opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle.

First heard in 1917 in Budapest, The Wooden Prince was repeated the following year in a double bill when Bluebeard was premiered, and the two works share a librettist in Béla Balázs. Unlike the opera, however, the ballet has a happy end, yet that does not preclude some dark psychologising along the way, and Măcelaru’s interpretation has a drive that captures the obsession of the prince for a seemingly unattainable princess.

Debussy and Wagner cast shadows over this rich score, and though the Dance Suite dates from only a few years later (1923), it already shows the composer much more deeply immersed in folk music. Indeed, it draws inspiration from Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak and even Arabic sources.

Here the Romanian conductor and his Cologne orchestra could perhaps be just a little spikier: these fine musicians produce a tremendous sound, but this music surely calls out for a greater astringency of the sort heard in such recordings as that of Zoltán Kocsis. On its own terms, this is still an exciting performance, one that builds through the Dance Suite’s six movements towards an invigorating and typically Bartókian finale.

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John Allison