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Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste, Miraculous Mandarin (Suite) - Gardner

Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste, Miraculous Mandarin (Suite) - Gardner

Chandos  CHSA 5130

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Bartok: Suite from 'The Miraculous Mandarin', Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste, Four Orchestral Pieces

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner (conductor)


Edward Gardner and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra perform three great orchestral works by Béla Bartók in this new Chandos release. Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta is a seminal work written for a unique ensemble consisting two string orchestras, playing from opposite sides of the stage, and a group of percussion instruments in addition to the piano, harp, and celesta. The piece took on wider recognition when it was used by Stanley Kubrick on the soundtrack of The Shining.

Also on this disc is the Suite from Bartók’s dark and gritty ballet The Miraculous Mandarin. The work, featuring some of the most colourful music Bartók wrote, tells the story of three criminals who force a young woman to lure passers-by into a room where they intend to rob them. The third passer-by to enter the room is the mandarin. The men try to kill him, but only when the girl satisfies his desire do his wounds begin to bleed, and he dies. The Four Orchestral Pieces, drafted in 1912, but not orchestrated until 1921, were written at a time when Bartók felt both misunderstood and ignored and had withdrawn from musical life in Budapest. These feelings of rejection may well have intensified the anger and cynicism found in this work.

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Review by Graham Williams - November 10, 2013

It is hardly surprising to discover that the finest recordings of Bartok's orchestral works are dominated by those made by Hungarian maestri. From the past, the names of Reiner, Ormandy, Dorati, Szell and Solti stand out, and more recently Ivan Fischer and Zoltan Kocsis have added further idiomatic performances to those already committed to disc. It is therefore most gratifying to welcome a fine new Bartok SACD from an unexpected source.

The first item is the Suite – in reality two thirds of the complete score – from Bartok's lurid ballet pantomime 'The Miraculous Mandarin'. It receives a a fizzing performance from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner that immediately demonstrates the high standard of the playing from these musicians. The combination of the incisive brass, rich strings and weighty percussion provides a visceral thrill, as does the presence of an organ in the work's opening section. This is often omitted when the suite, rather than the complete ballet, is performed. The engineers achieve a clean sound that combines warmth and massive impact in the acoustic of Hamer Hall, Arts Centre, Melbourne.

Gardner's account of the 'Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta' is somewhat less compelling. It is characterised by steady speeds that rob the two dance like movements (II and IV) of some of their energy and exuberance. The important exchanges between the two antiphonal string bodies are not as clearly defined as in many other recordings of this piece and, although one would not wish to return to the days of ping pong stereo, wider separation would be desirable. Gardner is at his best in creating the eerie and glacial atmosphere of the third movement where, on this recording, the tangibility of the various percussion instruments is manifest. Apparently this is a live recording, but thankfully there is no audible evidence of an audience presence.

A searching reading of Bartok's rarely heard 'Four Orchestral Pieces' completes the programme. Though written in 1912 they were not orchestrated until 1921 and clearly indicate the composer's debt to French impressionism. The opening 'Preludio' is full of wonderful glowing orchestral sonorities, but in spite of the overall tranquil mood darker elements lurk just below the surface. Much of the powerful 'Scherzo' sounds like a precursor for the composer's writing in 'The Miraculous Mandarin', while the dreamy and phantasmagorical 'Intermezzo' opens and closes with music of haunting delicacy. The work ends with a 'Marcia Funebre' that moves with an implacable tread and sense of menace.

Gardner and his orchestra give a strong and finely nuanced performance of this work and are rewarded by the engineers with a recording quality that does full justice to the intricacies of Bartok's rich and colourful orchestration.

Recommended.

Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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