‘Highly accomplished accounts of Bartók’s four most approachable orchestral works’

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COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Bartók
WORKS: Concerto for Orchestra; Dance Suite; Rhapsodies Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: James Ehnes (violin); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5189 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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The Bergen Philharmonic and its chief conductor Edward Gardner give highly accomplished accounts of Bartók’s four most approachable orchestral works. Notable in the Concerto for Orchestra is the pianissimo playing, particularly in such moments as the rushing violin passagework at the start of the finale, where many conductors opt for a more upfront sound. Gardner’s tempo for the ‘Game of the Couples’ second movement is a notch faster than usual, and perhaps that makes it harder to convey the music’s wry humour; but the swifter speed accurately reflects Bartók’s Allegro scherzando marking, and Gardner’s duration matches the composer’s indication in the score exactly. 

The Dance Suite, commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of the unification of Buda and Pest, is less adventurous than some of Bartók’s other works of the 1920s, but it is one of his most beautiful scores. Its use of folk melodies, some of them Arab in origin, makes it a close relative of the two Rhapsodies for violin and orchestra which were composed towards the end of the decade. The Dance Suite is impeccably done, and James Ehnes’s intense, rhythmically taut playing does the Rhapsodies proud. Bartók wrote an alternative ending to First Rhapsody, bypassing the reminiscence of material from its opening movement, presumably so that the two movements could be performed independently. Be that as it may, both versions are included here, and the disc makes a worthy companion to The Miraculous Mandarin and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta recorded by the same forces. 

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Misha Donat