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Britten: The Prince Of The Pagodas; Bartok: The Miraculous Mandarin


Release Date: 05/17/2011 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 49829   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin BrittenBéla Bartók
Performer:  John Orford
Conductor:  Oliver KnussenFranz Welser-Möst
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 27 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Superb performance and sound make this reissue of Britten’s ballet unmissable.

The main reason for acquiring this set is the only recording on CD of Britten’s magical Prince of the Pagodas complete. The composer recorded the work in the 1950s but made large cuts so that it would fit on three LP sidesl. Ever since Oliver Knussen’s account was issued, it has been highly praised for both the music and the performance. It originally came out on Virgin by itself and then was reissued on EMI with Britten’s Symphonic Suite from Gloriana - but with the Bournemouth orchestra and Uri Segal conducting - accompanying the ballet.
 
Now, possibly more logically, another twentieth-century masterpiece of
Read more the ballet repertoire is the “filler” for The Prince of the Pagodas. It makes for a very generous coupling and on sheer quantity is a real bargain. However, the Britten in and of itself is cause for some celebration. Except for its length, I do not understand why there have not been more recordings of this marvelous music. It after all is not as long as Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and there are several recordings of that complete score. However, I doubt any could top the performance and recording under review.
 
Britten composed his colorful score in variation form for John Cranko’s Royal Ballet, which premiered it on 1 January 1957. Although he had been introduced to Balinese gamelan music earlier by Canadian composer Colin McPhee, it was his two-week vacation in Bali in 1956 that led Britten to incorporate the sounds of the Balinese gamelan into his only ballet. This influence is apparent not only in the extensive use of such “exotic” percussion as bells, gongs, xylophone, and vibraphone, but also in the layered texture of the music itself.
 
The ballet is three acts and the recording has 39 tracks divided fairly equally among the acts. Though the booklet note describes the ballet in some detail, it does not cue the action to the tracks. However, the tracks themselves are all titled, which is a great help. While much of the music has the familiar Britten characteristics that one associates with the works of his maturity, there are apparent or near references throughout to music of other composers. Some of the ones that occurred to me as I listened to the recording several times include the Stravinskian bassoon in the “Entry of the Four Winged Frogs” (Act 1, track 15), Respighi’s Pines of Rome with added gamelan sounds (Act 3, track 4), Stravinsky’s Petrushka or Scherzo à la russe (Act 3, track 10), and even Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra composed in 1954 (Act 2, track 25). These are all filtered through Britten’s own compositional mind, and the ballet throughout its nearly two-hour duration does not contain a dull moment. I was glad to see that the various orchestral soloists get individual credit on the list of tracks for their roles in the work, including David Purser (trombone), John Harle (alto saxophone), Sebastian Bell (flute), Michael Thompson (horn), John Orford (bassoon), the various percussionists and others.
 
The accompanying work, Bartók’s expressionistic The Miraculous Mandarin, unlike the Britten ballet, has had many recordings among which several are outstanding. The one here is perfectly good, but somehow does not leave the startling impression that it should. After all, Bartók’s ballet was his answer to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, much as Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite was. Like the Britten work, it too is a virtuoso work for orchestra, but very lurid in its coloration as well as its theme. For a much stronger account in stunning sound, turn to Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony on DG or to the idiomatic Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra on Philips. Both are superior to that offered here, as is the earlier one by Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony on DG which for me is the most exciting of all. All three of these offer the complete ballet, as does Welser-Möst here, that includes the chorus in the penultimate scene, rather than only the concert suite. It may add less than five minutes in overall timing, but it provides the atmosphere the composer intended and makes for a much more logical conclusion to the ballet.
 
It is great to have Britten’s Prince of the Pagodas widely available again and in such a superb performance with sound to match. As if this were not incentive enough to purchase this set, it is being offered at budget price.  

-- Leslie Wright, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Prince of the Pagodas, Op. 57 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  John Orford (Bassoon)
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; England 
Venue:  St. Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London 
Length: 2 Minutes 15 Secs. 
2. Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19/Sz 73 by Béla Bartók
Conductor:  Franz Welser-Möst
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918-1919; Budapest, Hungary 
Date of Recording: 10/30/1992 
Venue:  No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 
Length: 1 Minutes 18 Secs. 

Sound Samples

The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I: Prelude
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: The Fool and the Dwarf (David Purser, principal trombone)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: March and Courtiers' Dance (John Harle, alto saxophone)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: Entry of the Pages and the Four Kings (Sebastian Bell, principal flute)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: Variation of the King of the North
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: Variation of the King of the East (Michael Thompson, horn)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: Variation of the King of the West
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: Variation of the King of the South (John Chimes, timpani; Kevin Nutty, native drums)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: The Kings bow before the Emperor
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: Variation of Princess Belle Epine
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: Variation of Princess Belle Rose and Pas de deux (Gareth Hulse, oboe; John Miller, trumpet)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: The Kings and Belle Rose
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: Belle Epine and the Four Kings
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: The Rage of the Kings
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act I, The Palace of the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom: Entry of the Four Winged Frogs (John Orford, principal bassoon)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Introduction: Belle Rose borne in by the Frogs
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Waltz (Clouds, Stars and Moon)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Belle Rose borne in by the Frogs
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Entrée (Sea Horses, Fish Creatures and Waves)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Variation (Sea Horses)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Variation (Fish Creatures) (Helen Tunstall, harp; Joy Farrall, clarinet)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Coda
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Belle Rose borne in by the Frogs
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Pas de deux (Male and Female Flames)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Variation (Male Flame)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Variation (Female Flame)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Coda
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 1: The Strange Journey of Belle Rose to the Pagoda Land: Belle Rose, exhausted, borne in by the Frogs
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 2: The Arrival and Adventures of Belle Rose in the Kingdom of the Pagodas: Belle Rose in darkness (Nona Liddell, violin)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 2: The Arrival and Adventures of Belle Rose in the Kingdom of the Pagodas: The Pagodas (James Holland, principal percussion; John Constable, principal keyboard)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 2: The Arrival and Adventures of Belle Rose in the Kingdom of the Pagodas: The Salamander
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 2: The Arrival and Adventures of Belle Rose in the Kingdom of the Pagodas: Pas de deux (The Prince and Belle Rose) (Nicholas Daniel, cor anglais; Helen Tunstall, harp)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act II, Scene 2: The Arrival and Adventures of Belle Rose in the Kingdom of the Pagodas: Belle Rose hunts for the Prince
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 1: The Palace of the Middle Kingdom: Empress Belle Epine
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 1: The Palace of the Middle Kingdom: The Old Emperor (John Harle, alto saxophone)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 1: The Palace of the Middle Kingdom: Appearance of Belle Rose and the Salamander
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Transformation
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Pas de six: Entrée
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Variation I: Pas de deux
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Variation II: Girl's Solo (Nona Liddell, violin; Christopher van Kampen, cello)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace, Variation III : Boy's Solo
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace, Variation III : Pas de trois
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace, Variation III : Coda
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Pas de caractčre (The Emperor and the Fool)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Pas de deux (Belle Rose and the Prince of the Pagodas)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Variation (The Prince)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Variation (Belle Rose)
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Finale
The Prince of the Pagodas - Ballet in three acts Op. 57, Act III, Scene 2: The Pagoda Palace: Apotheosis
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: Beginning
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: The curtain rises
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: First seduction game
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: Second seduction game
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: Third seduction game
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: The Mandarin enters
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: Dance of the girl
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: The chase
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: The tramps leap out
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: Suddenly the Mandarin's head appears
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: They drag the Mandarin to the centre of the room
The Miraculous Mandarin. Op.19: The Mandarin falls to the floor

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