WORKS: The Miraculous Mandarin; Dance Suite; Variations on a Hungarian Folksong ‘The Peacock’
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir/Franz Welser-Möst
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54858 2 DDD
Although described as a ‘pantomime in one act’, The Miraculous Mandarin is a long way from the world of corny jokes and ugly sisters. It’s one of the most violent pieces in the orchestral repertoire, both in subject matter and in musical content. This tale of three tramps selling a young women’s favours before robbing their victims is barely family viewing in the theatre; and in a concert performance (or a recording) the music should seize you by the throat, not least the Mandarin’s terrifying pursuit of the girl, and the tramps’ various attempts to murder him.
Franz Welser-Möst sets the scene well, with the swirling orchestral effects at the start taken at a cracking pace. But elsewhere there’s a lack of characterisation: the clarinet solos representing the girl’s dance aren’t very seductive, the Mandarin’s entry passes almost unnoticed and the chase is frankly a bit of a mess. Welser-Möst’s account of the Dance Suite is a good deal better, as are Kodály’s Peacock Variations; though after such first-rate Bartók I’m not sure that Kodály’s own folk-influenced idiom doesn’t sound a bit tame in comparison. The recorded sound throughout is rather too distant and reverberant for my taste. Stephen Maddock