Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra (CD review)

Also, Lutoslawksi: Concerto for Orchestra; Fanfare for Louisville. Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80618.

In the booklet note, maestro Paavo Jarvi says he is fond of coupling together similar pieces of music by different composers so that listeners can make comparisons and connections between them. In this case it is Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, written in 1943, and Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra, written a decade later in 1954. Additionally, Telarc have included Lutoslawski's little Fanfare for Louisville for good measure.

If the coupling points out anything at all, it's how much better the Bartok work is. There is a reason why people cherish some pieces of music as classics, warhorses of the industry, over others. Nevertheless, that's not to take anything away from Lutoslawski's Concerto. It is a bit shorter than Bartok's work and written in three movements rather than five, but it gains something from its more concise approach. Both pieces of music use variations on folk tunes; it's just that Lutoslawki's Concerto doesn't have the number of memorable tunes in it that Bartok's familiar work does nor the thematic or rhythmic intensity. Of course, both pieces contain the instrumental emphases that their titles suggest.

As far as Jarvi's interpretations go, they are among the conductor's best work. The Bartok hasn't quite the forward thrust or pent-up tensions of my favorite Fritz Reiner recording (RCA and JVC), but it does command one's attention from beginning to end. I especially enjoyed the baleful atmosphere of Bartok's third movement, which the composer called a "lugubrious death song," and the relatively lively and joyful finale. The Telarc sound helps, too, very natural, very realistic, and fairly well staged, if a trifle softer, cloudier, and more rounded than usual from this source.

For those folks with SACD players, Telarc also make the performances available on a hybrid CD/SACD disc (Telarc SACD-60618). The SACD version sounds slightly more vibrant to my ear than the regular CD issue, but the difference is subtle. I had no chance to listen in more than two channels.

JJP

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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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa