BARTOK: Concerto for Orchestra; Dance Suite for Orchestra; Hungarian Peasant Songs – Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra/Zoltan Kocsis – Hungaroton SACD

by | Jun 9, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

 BARTOK: Concerto for Orchestra; Dance Suite for
Orchestra; Hungarian Peasant Songs – Hungarian National Philharmonic
Orchestra/Zoltan Kocsis – Hungaroton Classic multichannel SACD HSACD
32187, 62:31 ****:

The Concerto for Orchestra was probably the most-performed 20th century
work in the 20th century. It was a generous commission from the
Koussevitsky Foundation in l943 that prompted the work, but Bartok’s
London publisher had suggested the year before that he should write a
series of concertos in a style similar to Bach’s famous Brandenburgs.
In a way, this idea became part of the five-movement Concerto for
Orchestra, with both the solo instruments and small instrumental
groupings treated in a concertante style – often with a high degree of
virtuosity. The work starts out very seriously, moves to a jokey sort
of Scherzo dubbed “Play of Pairs.” proceeds thru an Elegiac movement, a
short “Interrupted Intermezzo,” and concludes with what Bartok called a
“life-asserting finale.”  The Hungarian performers are surely
steeped in Bartok’s music and they make an exciting statement with it,
preserved in excellent immersing surround.

The stellar Fritz Reiner Chicago Symphony version on RCA’s SACD series
is unfortunately not three-channel but only two, so the Hungaroton
version has it over that one by  three channels surround-wise.
Even with Pro Logic II engaged on the Living Stereo classic the new
Hungarian SACD is 100% more spatial.  It also has a cleaner high
end – the Reiner version lacking in that area and suffering a
pronounced mid-bass hump in addition. The Chicago string section is
rich and lustrous but more distant; the Hungarians are not far behind
in ensemble and have the advantage of the spacious surround sound, not
to mention a wider dynamic range. Kocsis’ interpretation isn’t as rich
as Reiner’s but sounds more authentially “Hungarian.”  The
Concerto actually seems more tonal than in Reiner’s version. 
Kocsis is very precise but capable of whipping his players up to great
furousity in some of the big climaxes

Of the other two shorter works on the program, the Dance Suite dates
from 1923 and shows Bartok in a lighter mood.  The work was
commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the unification of Buda, Pest
and Obuda, and its six short movements represent various national folk
idioms. The even shorter Peasant Songs is an example of Bartok turning
into popular orchestral music some of the authentic Hungarian folk
material which he and Kodaly had collected around 1910, recording on
their cylinder phonograph.  Altogether a fine program, played by
those as close to the music as anyone could get, and in superb hi-res
surround.

– John Sunier

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