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Bartók: 4 Pieces For Orchestra, Violin Concerto, Etc / Gielen, Ostertag


Release Date: 02/14/2006 
Label:  Hänssler Classic   Catalog #: 93127   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Béla Bartók
Performer:  Christian Ostertag
Conductor:  Michael Gielen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Michael Gielen’s reading of Four Pieces for Orchestra is notably different from those of Pierre Boulez, Leon Botstein, and David Robertson. Whereas they emphasize the beauties of Bartók’s orchestration, Gielen probes deeply, uncovering awesome dramatic power. Connections to Bartók’s stage works become obvious: The second movement Scherzo could be inserted into The Miraculous Mandarin with nary a hiccup (Four Pieces was written prior to The Mandarin, but orchestrated after it), and the finale, Marcia funebre, an epilogue to Bluebeard’s Castle. Suddenly Four Pieces, usually considered a Romantic early effort, becomes pure Bartók.

After which, the 1908 First Violin Concerto seems a treacly mess, youthful
Read more indulgence in romantic excess. Not even Gielen can rescue the opening Andante sostenuto. He does make a case for the Allegro giocoso, finding a certain sincerity and dignity in its calmer moments and wallowing in the few explosive outbursts. Christian Ostertag fiddles to perfection throughout.

Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta would seem to be Gielen’s meat, yet this performance is anything but what I had expected. The opening movement is comparatively calm and relaxed; the marking is Andante tranquillo, but performances I most admire find a dark undertone of mystery. The Allegro is played a bit sloppily, and the Adagio is not really slow enough. At last, the finale blooms, in a rip-roaring, colorful performance. Solo instruments, particularly the piano, are to the fore throughout. My respect for Gielen, one of the most intellectual of all musicians, keeps me from damning this performance; I will have to listen further to see if I can better understand what he is after.

The SWR orchestra is accurate and clean in the Four Pieces; this radio ensemble sounds larger and fuller then it did in decades past. These three recordings were made over a 14-month period in 2003 and 2004, at the Freiburg Concert House. Hänssler’s recorded sound is clean and bright. My recommendations for MUSPAC remain the Chicago blockbusters by Reiner and Solti. For those who treasure beauty of sound, none can surpass the Linn hybrid SACD led by Charles Mackerras, which is stunning in either medium. For the First Violin Concerto, Isaac Stern with Eugene Ormandy is the least of evils, coupled on a midprice Sony CD with the great Stern/Bernstein performance of the Bartók Second Concerto. This Hänssler Classic disc is indispensable for Four Pieces for Orchestra, realized as never before.

Michael Gielen’s reading of Four Pieces for Orchestra is notably different from those of Pierre Boulez, Leon Botstein, and David Robertson. Whereas they emphasize the beauties of Bartók’s orchestration, Gielen probes deeply, uncovering awesome dramatic power. Connections to Bartók’s stage works become obvious: The second movement Scherzo could be inserted into The Miraculous Mandarin with nary a hiccup (Four Pieces was written prior to The Mandarin, but orchestrated after it), and the finale, Marcia funebre, an epilogue to Bluebeard’s Castle. Suddenly Four Pieces, usually considered a Romantic early effort, becomes pure Bartók.

After which, the 1908 First Violin Concerto seems a treacly mess, youthful indulgence in romantic excess. Not even Gielen can rescue the opening Andante sostenuto. He does make a case for the Allegro giocoso, finding a certain sincerity and dignity in its calmer moments and wallowing in the few explosive outbursts. Christian Ostertag fiddles to perfection throughout.

Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta would seem to be Gielen’s meat, yet this performance is anything but what I had expected. The opening movement is comparatively calm and relaxed; the marking is Andante tranquillo, but performances I most admire find a dark undertone of mystery. The Allegro is played a bit sloppily, and the Adagio is not really slow enough. At last, the finale blooms, in a rip-roaring, colorful performance. Solo instruments, particularly the piano, are to the fore throughout. My respect for Gielen, one of the most intellectual of all musicians, keeps me from damning this performance; I will have to listen further to see if I can better understand what he is after.

The SWR orchestra is accurate and clean in the Four Pieces; this radio ensemble sounds larger and fuller then it did in decades past. These three recordings were made over a 14-month period in 2003 and 2004, at the Freiburg Concert House. Hänssler’s recorded sound is clean and bright. My recommendations for MUSPAC remain the Chicago blockbusters by Reiner and Solti. For those who treasure beauty of sound, none can surpass the Linn hybrid SACD led by Charles Mackerras, which is stunning in either medium. For the First Violin Concerto, Isaac Stern with Eugene Ormandy is the least of evils, coupled on a midprice Sony CD with the great Stern/Bernstein performance of the Bartók Second Concerto. This Hänssler Classic disc is indispensable for Four Pieces for Orchestra, realized as never before.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

1. Pieces (4) for Orchestra, Op. 12/Sz 51 by Béla Bartók
Conductor:  Michael Gielen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912/1921; Budapest, Hungary 
2. Concerto for Violin no 1, Sz 36 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  Christian Ostertag (Violin)
Conductor:  Michael Gielen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907-1908; Budapest, Hungary 
3. Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz 106 by Béla Bartók
Conductor:  Michael Gielen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Budapest, Hungary 

Sound Samples

4 Orchestral Pieces, BB 64: I. Preludio: Moderato
4 Orchestral Pieces, BB 64: II. Scherzo: Allegro
4 Orchestral Pieces, BB 64: III. Intermezzo: Moderato
4 Orchestral Pieces, BB 64: IV. Marcia funebre: Maestoso
Violin Concerto No. 1, BB 48a: I. Andante sostenuto
Violin Concerto No. 1, BB 48a: II. Allegro giocoso
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, BB 114: I. Andante tranquillo
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, BB 114: II. Allegro
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, BB 114: III. Adagio
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, BB 114: IV. Allegro molto

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