LABELS: LSO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Bartók * Stravinsky
WORKS: Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3; The Miraculous Mandarin – Suite; Stravinsky: The Firebird; Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet – Montagues and Capulets
PERFORMER: Yefim Bronfman (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 5078
This latest in the LSO Live’s Gergiev series reproduces a concert not from the orchestra’s London Barbican home but from the Newark Performing Arts Center during its whistle-stop New York and New Jersey visit of October 2015. Complaints about the sound qualities of Barbican-made recordings since the series began have been regular. Unfortunately, the Newark hall seems on this evidence hardly more welcoming as a recording environment. The three main works on offer plus the Prokofiev encore come across with clarity and balance – bravo the engineers! – but also a disappointingly limited dynamic range, particularly noticeable at the pianissimo opening of the Bartók concerto slow movement.
This matters more because the performances themselves all show considerable boldness of style. They’re samples of the erratic Valery Gergiev at his remarkable best – a musical dramatist of a high order nervously alert to changes of mood and scene. This Mandarin Suite, ferociously intense even in moments of barest scoring, bears comparison with the LSO’s famously electrifying 1963 recording conducted by Solti.
The complete Firebird, long a Gergiev speciality (he previously recorded it with his Kirov orchestra and, on DVD, the Vienna Philharmonic), seems here even more sharply defined than those earlier accounts – with, for instance, illuminating attention paid to the curious Allegro rapace marking of the Firebird’s dance. And the combination of largeness of scale and extreme tonal refinement in Yefim Bronfman’s solo Bartók playing is answered with wonderful specificity by conductor and orchestra.
It’s a concert well worth recreating at home – once the disc’s sound limitations have been absorbed and digested.