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Bartok: The Wooden Prince; Cantata Profana / Boulez, Chicago Symphony

Release Date: 11/10/1992 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 435863   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Béla Bartók
Performer:  John TomlinsonJohn Aler
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony OrchestraChicago Symphony Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This disc was nominated for Best Classical Album in the 37th annual Grammy Awards.

A disc to rank alongside other Chicago Bartok classics, such as Dorati's mono The Miraculous Mandarin Suite (Mercury, 2/55) and Reiner's Concerto for Orchestra and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (RCA, 1/90). The reasons? Partly performance and recording, partly repertoire. The repertoire hook is Bartok's parable of fathers, sons and fleeing the nest, his 1930 Cantata profana, a mesmerizing, symmetrically designed masterpiece, where words and music are forged into an action-packed 18 minutes. Boulez provides what is by far the best studio recording the work
Read more has ever had (it's also the first in digital sound), more poetic, pungent and forceful than either Ferencsik (Hungaroton) or the old, English-language Susskind LP version (Bartok Recording Studio—nla), and truly state-of-the-art in terms of sound. Boulez is able to command a shimmering hushed pp (try the tenors' first entry, 1'04 into the opening), yet the battle-hardy Allegro molto (3'30 in) with its hectoring syncopations and warlike percussion, is full of grit and muscle. John Aler is wonderfully adroit with Bartok's high-flying solo tenor line (although he can't quite match the sweet yet disquieting Jozsef Reti for Ferencsik); John Tomlinson sounds like an authentic Magyar, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus egg the proceedings on with tireless zeal.

Turn then to The Wooden Prince and you confront the final flowering of Bartok's post-romantic phase, it's an effulgent, exotic piece, full of wistful, melancholy wind solos (clarinet and saxophone figure prominently) and billowing, heavily-scored climaxes. How astonishing to reflect that it was written after the composer's trail-blazing opera, Bluebeard's Castle. Here Boulez prompts memories of his younger self (from 1975, to be exact—an CBS, 3/89—nla) with the New York Philharmonic, but the newer version is both more genial and vastly better recorded. Again, the soft music is wonderfully atmospheric: the ppp muted violins in the Prelude have a ghostly pallor that is so typical of this orchestra's quiet string playing, yet when all are engaged at full throttle, the effect is shattering. Detail is legion throughout: the basses, brass and drums have immense presence (the Dance of the Trees issues an ominous growl), there's plenty of percussion glitter in the chirpy Dance of the Princess with the wooden prince and work's lyrical close is beautifully blended. Jarvi and the Philharmonia (Chandos) are also very good, if rather more reverberantly recorded, perhaps Jarvi is the more unbuttoned in the livelier dances, the less minutely observant of the waves and trees. However, it is Boulez who achieves the greater precision overall, and whose work receives the more impressive (and resonant) sound.

Jarvi's Wooden Prince is coupled with the pleasant if comparatively inconsequential Hungarian Sketches, a fair choice given his friendlier view of the main work. But Boulez's coupling is, as I have suggested, the best reason for rushing out and purchasing his disc: it is an indisputable masterpiece, and one that should be in every self-respecting collection of twentieth-century musical landmarks. Why isn't it played and recorded more often?

--Gramophone Magazine Read less

Works on This Recording

Wooden Prince, Op. 13/Sz 60 by Béla Bartók
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1917; Budapest, Hungary 
Date of Recording: 12/1991 
Venue:  Orchestra Hall, Chicago 
Length: 54 Minutes 56 Secs. 
Cantata Profana, Sz 94 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  John Tomlinson (Bass), John Aler (Tenor)
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra,  Chicago Symphony Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; Budapest, Hungary 
Date of Recording: 12/1991 
Venue:  Orchestra Hall, Chicago 
Length: 18 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Language: Hungarian 

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