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BARTÓK: Violin Concerto No. 2; Concerto for Orchestra – Augustin Dumay, violin/Orch. symphonique de Montreal/ Kent Nagano – Onyx Classics (2 CDs bound as book)

BÉLA BARTÓK: Violin Concerto No. 2; Concerto for Orchestra – Augustin Dumay, violin/Orch. symphonique de Montreal/ Kent Nagano – Onyx Classics ONYX4138 (2 CDs), 81:35 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (5/13/16) ****:

Excellent performances that rank with the best.

The music of Béla Bartók is, of course, by now standard orchestral fare and he is largely considered one the twentieth century’s most innovative and ingenious composers. There have been literally hundreds of recordings of these two present works – arguably his two most familiar – the second Violin Concerto and the Concerto for Orchestra. So how do these performances compare with some of the many others? I think very favorably indeed.

For the second Violin Concerto, I admit I have always greatly enjoyed the old Yehudi Menuhin rendition under Antal Dorati and for a much more recent and very genuinely “Hungarian” take I strongly recommend the somewhat obscure recording by Barnabás Keleman with the Hungarian National Philharmonic. This version with Augustin Dumay is excellent; a bit more ‘refined’ than some versions that seem more “raw” especially in the finale. Dumay is a violinist and conductor of international renown who has played with a number of major orchestras worldwide. He is also the principal conductor of the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan. His tone and line are beautifully crafted and his technique is amazing!

I feel similarly about Kent Nagano’s rendition of the iconic Concert for Orchestra. I still really like some of the “old school” readings such as Reiner in Chicago and Dorati with Concertgebouw. However, this one with Kent Nagano is a straight-forward, non-nuanced yet still appropriately exciting take. I especially liked the well known Giuoco della coppie, in which the superb principal players in Montreal get to shine.

Also, it is really worth recommending this recording for the chance to hear Montreal if one has not in a while. Some of my favorite recordings of nearly anything are the ones I own with the OSM under Charles Dutoit, under whom they were easily one of the best orchestras in the world. Kent Nagano has an international reputation and allows his musicians and the orchestra itself to be the ‘show’ (not always the case.) The recording and packaging here is superb. Onyx makes the interesting choice to issue this album in two separate discs; one for each piece. At just over eighty minutes total time, the coupling could have occurred on one single disc. There are probably some technical or sonic considerations that explain the choice but are not explained in the packaging. It sounds marvelous to be sure! sThe booklet notes and design are of highest artistic quality; the booklet itself being of book quality and on heavy paper; almost like a special edition of some sort.

I highly recommend this recording for the performances, the sound quality and the presentation. If these would be someone’s first recording of these works, you cannot go wrong and if you’re like me and have now ten or so; that is no reason to not add these to your Bartók library.

—Daniel Coombs

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