Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra, Dance Suite, Rhapsodies 1 & 2 - Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5189
Classical - Orchestral
Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra, Dance Suite, Rhapsodies 1 & 2
James Ehnes (violin)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Edward Gardner (conductor)
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Review by John Broggio - November 12, 2017
An exceptionally well filled disc of excellent performances.
Any account of the Concerto for Orchestra must stand comparison to pioneering gems of recording history such as Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra - Reiner, as well as more recent highlights like Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra, Dance Suite - Kocsis. Needless to say that this recent account affords a far greater range and less "fragile" timbre to the Bergen players than (well preserved) tapes for Reiner's Chicago orchestra. Somewhat surprisingly, the sound here also stands head and shoulders above that served up to Zoltan Kocsis, which is issued at a noticeably higher level (with a consequently narrower dynamic range). All of the technical excellence is undone if the musicianship is not of a similar standing.
Fortunately, from the beginning of the concerto, the Bergen players prove themselves to be "at home" in this repertoire, just as we have come to expect elsewhere. Unusually, Gardner seats the violins antiphonally to great effect in clarity and lightness of timbre. Compared to Kocsis, Gardner allows himself more time in the slower music and, combined with the larger dynamic range relayed by the Chandos recording, generates greater musical tension which he is then willing to release to thrilling effect in the faster movements. Akin to the effect often achieved by Ivan Fischer with his Budapest super orchestra, the attack is fiercely clean and beautiful; the clarity (which should not be confused with leanness of sonority) allows for many details to be readily audible. Added to all of this is a response to the score from Gardner and his orchestra that is as keenly felt and characterised as any.
James Ehnes then joins the proceedings in the two rhapsodies for violin and orchestra. As so often these days, we are offered a variant to the usual editions; here this takes the form of an alternate ending for the first half (which is given a separate track). From this point on, any hint of US suavity is dispensed with and a wonderful earthiness characterises the playing of Ehnes and the orchestra; not that they give way to "rustic" tuning. The sense of excitement that the players themselves feel under the baton of Gardner in accompanying James Ehnes' wonderfully characteristic accounts is palpable and casts the account of the first rhapsody on Bartok, Kodaly, Ligeti - Foster firmly in the shade. However, Bartok: Violin Concerto, Rhapsodies 1 & 2 - Kelemen, Kocsis provides not only the alternate ending for the first rhapsody but one of the second rhapsody as well. Readers must balance this against the more natural perspective afforded to soloist and orchestra here.
To close the disc, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra really go to town in the Dance Suite - this is marvellously unbuttoned playing and it sounds like a gigantic (and extraordinarily well drilled) gypsy band. At the same time, the discipline exhibited earlier in the Concerto for Orchestra and fiere clarity remains; all in all this is a tremendously exciting end to a disc that showcases all the artists involved, from the pen of Bartok to the engineering teams of both hall and Chandos to the musicians captured in glowing performances.
Highly recommended; this disc must now count as the finest modern hi-res recording of these works.
Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and HRAudio.net