Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Dance Suite, Divertimento for Strings - Järvi

Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Dance Suite, Divertimento for Strings - Järvi

Sony Classical (Japan)  SICC-19042

Stereo Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Dance Suite, Divertimento for Strings

NHK Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi (conductor)

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Comments (5)

Comment by hiredfox - May 8, 2019 (1 of 5)

One to look out for as the NHK / Järvi partnership seems to work in a very special way; the previous three recordings of their partnership can make claims to being amongst the best and most realistic sounding SA-CD available with the caveat "at a price" of course

Comment by Tony Reif - May 8, 2019 (2 of 5)

Actually there are 5 previous Jarvi/NHKs - the 3 Strauss and more recently Mahler 6 and Mussorgsky, which I haven't heard. How do they hold up as performances/interpretations?

Comment by hiredfox - May 10, 2019 (3 of 5)

There are indeed five previous releases Tony. It is hard to generalise one's assessment of five discs in a single sentence but these days Paavo Järvi's performances with the NHK orchestra with whom he seems to have established a very special synergistic understanding, are beyond reproach and without reflection on what I may have written at the times of their releases, would argue that each disc is close to being a clear first choice for the repertoire without resorting to the idiosychrasies of (say) a Fischer.

His performances with the Bremen and Frankfurt ensembles on the Sony label usually do not achieve quite the dizzy heights of his outings to Tokyo but arguably the repertoire has been less accommodating of his natural flair and exuberance. Nevertheless his earlier Beethoven survey at Bremen is arguably the best on disc and a severe challenge to von Karajan with maybe the exception of the 'Choral'.

Comment by hiredfox - May 25, 2019 (4 of 5)

He's looking a little greyer ;-)

Comment by Tony Reif - July 15, 2019 (5 of 5)

These are full orchestra versions of two pieces (MSPC and Divertimento) that were commissioned by Paul Sacher for his Basle Chamber Orchestra. I listened in stereo, comparing these performances to those of Zoltan Kocsis and the Hungarian National PO playing as a large chamber orchestra (10-12 first and second violins, 6-8 violas and cellos, 2-4 double basses plus piano, celeste, harp and percussion in MSPC), recorded in 2008 at the Palace of Arts in Budapest. The NHK's live DSD sound is full, imposing and tonally beautiful in a very ample hall acoustic, and Jarvi's tempos are almost always slower, sometimes a lot slower. The sound might be considered just a little dark by some (though treble extension is fine), but it complements Jarvi's deliberate tempi, resulting in weighty interpretations which seem to foreground the tragic under/overtones of both scores. (Divertimento for Strings was composed in August 1939; as the Kocsis liner note states, it "is characterized by immense, frequently overpowering, profundity of expression.") The NHK soundstage is spacious, both wide and deep, the dynamic contrasts huge, the bass foundation massive. And it all sounds very natural: nothing is spotlit and you just feel immersed in the music.

There is much pleasure to be had in this approach, but Kocsis shows that there are ways to play these scores that are more exciting and incisive and do more justice to their Hungarian folk roots (listen for example to the 3rd movement of the Divertimento). Jarvi talks on a Japanese website about how well the NHK can swing this music, but compared to Kocsis there is occasionally less unanimity in polyrhythmic or highly syncopated passages, and this at slower speeds, which along with the bigger sound often makes the dance elements feel heavier and less physically engaging. Kocsis's smaller forces are recorded in a drier acoustic and an overall brighter sound, which is only partly the result of much less sheer volume in the bass. MSPC's antiphonal effects, very prominent (as they also are throughout the Divertimento), are a lot sharper in Kocsis, the faster speeds truly exhilarating. But it's the andante tranquillo first movement of MSPC that actually provides the greatest tempo contrast – 6:25 in Kocsis to Jarvi's 8:53, which are pretty much the extemes, though Bernstein is even slower. (For comparison Reiner is 7:05 - but the RCA SACD sound is far behind these two in every way.) Not saying Kocsis's more idiomatic treatment precludes others: these are both great pieces that respond to different interpretations, and Jarvi's slower movements never feel dragged out.

In fact he can be very evocative in quiet interludes – note for example the sensitive string swells in the nostalgic 4th movement of the Dance Suite (1923). This is a piece for full orchestra and a much less angular, more emotionally upbeat composition, though threaded through with a contemplative ritornello. (It seems to offer a foretaste of some aspects of the Concerto for Orchestra.) Here the tempos are similar, yet Kocsis finds more humour in the brash sections, bringing a smile to my face several times. His phrasing, pacing and dynamics strike a fine balance between extraversion and inwardness, whereas Jarvi's overall seriousness misses something. The recording (from 2002) is about as good as the later Hungaroton. Another option is Solit/LSO from 1965 (SHM-SACD). Solti treats the Dance Suite more like an orchestral showpiece; both the sound and the playing are very vivid (dig the snarling brass in the final movement) but it remains more on the surface.

In the final analysis, as well as the NHKSO plays the Hungarians play with even more character, and Kocsis's generally fleeter concept and perhaps more intimate understanding of the subtleties of these works produces a more flowing sense of continuity within and between movements. If his performances seem a little less demonstrative, and often just that much more intuitive and absorbing, Jarvi's are certainly worth having for their own special sonic and expressive qualities.