BARTOK: Concerto for Orchestra; LUTOSLAWSKI: Concerto for Orchestra; Fanfare for Louisville – Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/ Paavo Järvi – Telarc Multichannel SACD-60618, 71:40 *****:
Having just reviewed the Philadelphia Orchestra’s entry in the Bartok Concerto sweepstakes on SACD, here is yet another. And one so spectacular I believe I would have chosen it my Multichannel Disc of the Month if we didn’t already have one on the site labeled that. The pairing of the two Concertos for Orchestra is quite a coup; they have a number of connections. While Bartok’s was created in the middle of WW II, the Polish composer penned his concerto in 1954 in the midst of the difficult postwar period in his country. Both composers were steeped in earlier music such as Bach, as well as in folk music of their respective Eastern European nations. Like Shostakovich in Russia, Lutoslawski had to be very careful about what music he wrote and opinions he espoused during the Stalinist repression. Though his concerto is no more avant than Bartok’s – and in fact sounds amazingly similar at many points – it was considered a rather dangerous work. Fortunately Stalin had died by the time the work was premiered in Poland. In three movements, it concludes with a Passacaglia, Toccata and Chorale longer than the initial two movements put together, and serving as a spectacular showcase of the virtuosity of many of the symphony members.
Both concertos are strongly-colored works with many contrasts of solo and small instrumental groups against the mass of the orchestra, as well as massive ensemble sounds with all players participating. Both the smaller individual sounds and the larger aggregations are reproduced with the greatest clarity and pinpoint imaging on the soundstage, especially in the surround version. Some may not find the Cincinnati band in the same league as the Chicago or Philadelphia Orchestras, but in the surround sonics department I felt this disc was clearly the winner.
– John Sunier