The Wooden Prince – A Dancing-Play in One Act
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Recorded on 9 & 10 May 2007 in The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570534
Duration: 54 minutes
Scored for a large orchestra, Bartók’s The Wooden Prince (composed between 1914 and 1916 and first staged in Budapest in 1917), the first of his two ballets (the second is The Miraculous Mandarin) is a hugely enjoyable, very colourful and brilliantly fantastical creation – very much music to feed the imagination.
It is also superb music on its own terms – atmospheric, folksy, witty, luxuriant, descriptive, deft, dramatic, passionate and full of imagery – invention characteristic of its composer and also the minutely observed description that he wrote into the score: music that paints pictures and is also satisfying in more abstract terms as a large-scale ‘symphony’ of continual invention; and, indeed, Bartók did describe this ballet-score as “a kind of elaborate symphonic music, a symphonic poem to be danced to”. This is a fairy-tale set in a forest in which a prince and princess are being outwitted by a fairy determined to keep the prince in her magic domain. Said prince makes a dummy of himself, which comes alive, and which the princess falls for. She stays loyal when she meets the real version!
This Bournemouth Symphony/Marin Alsop performance is both enhanced and compromised by the acoustic, which is far too ambient, but here the extra dimension afforded the sound seems generally apt – certainly to suggest space and distance. Detail is clear enough though (and there is plenty of that) although, sometimes, there is a lack of edge, the music being sucked into the acoustic like water into a sponge. Nevertheless, the performance is a fine one – affectionate, considered and concentrated – Alsop keen to give value to each twist and turn (a playing-time of nearly 54 minutes is proof of this – the booklet-note writer estimates 45, but that is too much the other way!) in an account full in expression and narrative-conscious while ensuring that Bartók’s carefully crafted overall design is not threatened by the score being too ‘vertically’ observed.
This is a considerable achievement, both a wonderful introduction to the score (if you’re already smitten with Stravinsky’s The Firebird you will also become so with The Wooden Prince) and with an enchanted capability of its own even if you already possess recordings by Boulez, Gielen (Suite) and Iván Fischer (but there is also an earthier side to this ‘Dancing-Play’ that Alsop and/or the acoustic do not fully reveal). Nevertheless, this is a highly recommended release!