Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra (CD review)

Also, Dance Suite; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.  Sir Georg Solti, Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Decca 475 7711.

In the 1920s, Hungarian-born Georg Solti had been a student in one of Bela Bartok's piano classes and later, in the 1930s, had been a page-turner for Bartok during the Hungarian première of his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. So, Solti had had an acquaintance with the composer, if ever so fleeting.

Maybe because of this, Solti's two stereo recordings of the Concerto for Orchestra, first with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1965 and then with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1981, display an ample understanding of the composer and his idiom. Decca chose to remaster the LSO performance in its "Legendary Performances" series a few years back, and more recently reissued the CSO performance (reviewed here) in their "Decca Originals" series.

Solti's Chicago Symphony recording may not convey quite the same feeling as the earlier effort, because in the 1965 interpretation Solti allowed himself a moment's respite from time to time, slowing things down occasionally in order to better serve the dynamic and tempo contrasts. But there is no denying the newer account has a forward momentum that is quite pleasing, and with the music arising from dead-quiet silences, it is all the more effectively biting.

For a coupling, Decca provide Bartok's Dance Suite, of which I am not too keen but with which Solti does his best; and the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, all weird and spacey and mysterious, with which Solti is a master. If I still hold Fritz Reiner's interpretations (RCA/JVC) of the Concerto and the Music for Strings in first place, it isn't by much.

As for the audio, the CSO digital recording sounds pretty good, perhaps a result of the remastering, with good definition, those super-quiet backgrounds I mentioned, and fine spacial dimensionality. By comparison, the older LSO recording sounds a bit softer, a bit more natural in some places, but a bit leaner and fuzzier, too.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa