Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Miraculous Mandarin:
Symphony No. 1
Jonathan Pasternack, cond; London SO
NAXOS 8.572448 (68:29)
In this age of the cult of the jet-setting conductor, nothing aggravates the ulcers of orchestra managers and PR consultants like the dearth of marquee maestros currently plying the circuit. Had most of us even heard of half of the music directors of today’s top orchestras just a few
years ago? This of course is an entirely different question from ascertaining the artistic merit of those young artists struggling to replace the few remaining aging conductors who can reliably fill concert halls and sell recordings. Gustavo Dudamel aside, how many recent headline-grabbing podium debuts can you think of?
The American Jonathan Pasternack is working his way up the ranks, and this recording debut (with the London Symphony, an orchestra of considerably higher level than most of the others he has appeared with) is an important step in that arduous and sometimes capricious process. The combination of Bartók and Brahms is a bit unusual in normal circumstances, but the variety makes perfect sense for a debut.
It must be tempting for a budding conductor to interject some novelty into repertoire as well covered as Brahms’s First Symphony, but Pasternack is smart enough to know that few works lend themselves to idiosyncrasy as poorly as this imposing masterpiece. Granted, one can sense a phrase here and there that receives some extra care, or an inner voice a measure of extra presence, but by and large this is a sensibly paced and smartly balanced reading. The main
of the first movement and the entirety of the third movement are a shade on the slow side. The tempo of the finale is straight down the middle, though he does exaggerate the contrast of the alternating main tempo and central lyrical theme more than most, the only slight interpretive risk on the recording. If the overall impression seems cautious in the particulars, the final result is utterly convincing and coherent, with many striking moments of passion and beauty.
doesn’t face nearly as much competition; most major conductors have no available recordings for comparison. Fortunately for Pasternack, the LSO is one band with plenty of experience with the work, including a riveting recording with Kent Nagano. Only the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with legendary accounts by Solti and Boulez, can stake a higher claim. The young maestro clearly knows this score backward and forward, and expertly strikes a balance between brilliant coloration, finely regulated balance, and smart but unhurried pacing.
Those inclined toward the technical side of the recording process should take note that this is billed as the first recording to employ “all digital” microphones, manufactured by Sennheiser and Neumann. The clarity, soundstage, and tonal fidelity of the instruments are certainly impressive, but any possible distinctions (if any) made by this new equipment in the finished product are too subtle to make a definitive assessment at this time. I find the lower strings to be a bit muddy, but this could be the result of any number of factors. I look forward to the debates in the audiophile community engendered by this next (and final?) step in the digital revolution.
FANFARE: Michael Cameron
Works on This Recording
Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19/Sz 73: Suite by Béla Bartók
John Bradbury (Clarinet)
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1919-1927; Budapest, Hungary
Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1855-1876; Austria
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