Music From the Machine Age

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COMPOSERS: Bartok/Holst/Ravel/Schulhoff
ALBUM TITLE: Music From the Machine Age
WORKS: Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin Suite, Op. 19; Prokofiev: Ala et Lolly (Scythian Suite), Op. 20; Ravel: La Valse; Holst: The Perfect Fool; Schulhoff: Ogelala
PERFORMER: Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra/Sascha Goetzel


After wowing us two years ago with Respighi, Hindemith and Florent Schmitt, the boisterously confident Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic cuts another lively swathe through colourful 20th-century repertoire. The programme’s title is misleading, for the machine aesthetic plays no direct role in these five ballet scores which date from 1915 to 1925. Prokofiev’s barbarous Scythian Suite resurrects the Scythians of antiquity; Schulhoff’s Ogelala visits pre-Columbian Mexico; Holst’s Perfect Fool conjures dancing spirits of earth, fire and water; Ravel’s La valse, at least in the composer’s mind, whirls us back to Imperial Vienna.

Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin stands alone in presenting a contemporary, lurid, urban scene. The Turkish players and their Viennese conductor offer muscular strings, dirty slithering brass, but sagging momentum: there are sharper interpretations available. Yet it’s fascinating to hear the suite alongside other music similarly influenced by the period’s big shocker, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The Schulhoff suite takes matters a step further, mixing the Rite with the Mandarin, plus an added layer of primitive percussion. The Borusans pile into this piece with particular glee; the Scythian Suite too is properly bloody-thirsty. As before, the recording is almost alarmingly vivid.

In this context, Holst’s rhythms in The Perfect Fool inevitably seem timid, even when delivered with reasonable punch. La valse, too, doesn’t quite come off: Goetzel gives us noise and brashness, but not the necessary sense of enveloping catastrophe. Patchy results, then, but still a stimulating CD.


Geoff Brown