I must confess that I've never been really that crazy about most of the larger works of Béla Bartók. I do have a fondness for the First Piano Concerto, to be sure, and have been an admirer of the Concerto for Orchestra, as well as of the Second Violin Concerto. Yes, there is much else to admire in his output, too: I've enjoyed many of the smaller piano pieces, the quartets and other chamber works. But most of Bartók's important orchestral music somehow eludes my deeper senses, and my tepid reaction to it probably owes more to my deficiencies than his.
The Miraculous Mandarin is one score of a healthy handful that I have been unable to warm up to over the years. Yet I admire how Bartók deftly conjures its weird sound world, its vivid orchestral colors and its mixture of the violent and sensual. The American conductor Marin Alsop, here leading the English orchestra she assumed directorship of in 2002, captures the full measure of this score, and in detailed sound. Both the SACD and CD layers are brilliantly reproduced by the Naxos engineers, and the playing by the Bournemouth players is impressive.
The Dance Suite and Hungarian Pictures (1931) are also imaginatively rendered here. The latter collection contains some truly attractive pieces, including An Evening in the Village, an orchestral version of An Evening in Transylvania, #5, from the Ten Easy Pieces for Piano, from 1908. The famous Slightly Tipsy is also an irresistible item here. Bartók mavens will undoubtedly find this recording much to their liking. Notes are informative and, as suggested above, the sound is vivid and fully state-of-the-art. Strongly recommended.
Copyright © 2005, Robert Cummings