Suite No.1, BB39 (Op. 3, 1905) [First recording of original version]
Concerto for Orchestra, BB123 (1943)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Recorded during 2019 in City Halls, Glasgow
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Onyx 4210
Duration: 78 minutes
Thomas Dausgaard has hardly been short of ambition as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony and here inaugurates a series devoted to the orchestral music of Bartók that, even if not including the Concertos, will likely amount to a sizable project. This first volume has been artfully planned to juxtapose his largest such pieces which (coincidentally?) frame almost the entirety of his output, their symmetrical design indicating a lifelong concern with balance and proportion as underpins an eventful trajectory taking its composer from apprentice to master.
Bartók’s two Suites occupy a not dissimilar position in his catalogue to that held by Brahms’s Serenades. Neither is often revived today, explicable in the case of the First Suite by an idiom rooted in Strauss tone poems that was soon left behind. Not that its combining late-Romantic panache with a Hungarian inflection centred on urban populism rather than rural authenticity is other than engaging, and Dausgaard makes the most of these in a reading as animated as it is affectionate. This is also the first recording to incorporate material in the second and third movements Bartók excised from his 1920 revision, but while this is by no means repetitious, it does extend them out of proportion in relation to those other movements – as a comparison with Zoltán Kocsis’s account (Hungaroton), at its finest in the propulsive central Scherzo and bittersweet intermezzo that follows, amply reinforces. Anyone who encounters it for the first time, however, is unlikely to find themselves unresponsive to the infectious elan Dausgaard generates throughout this often gauche while technically assured and always appealing work.
Onward some 38 years and the Concerto for Orchestra shares a comparable five-movement design, though its formal and expressive integration is on another level entirely. Dausgaard underlines this in a reading that seeks to encapsulate the piece as a single cumulative entity and comes as close as any earlier version to doing so. Listen to the seamlessness with which he elides between relative stasis and dynamism in the ‘Introduzione’’s contrasting sections, or the wit and urbanity in the ‘Giuoco delle coppie’ that does not preclude affecting poise in its central chorale. Anguished eloquence there is aplenty in the ‘Elegia’, but also a sense of mysterious inwardness which finds its unlikely corollary in the ‘Intermezzo interrotto’ with its ingenious interplay of plaintiveness, pathos and – allusions to Shostakovich or otherwise – parody. Kocsis (Hungaroton) may emphasise each movement’s character more distinctly but, navigating the ‘Finale’s apparent discontinuity in mood and motion with keenest dexterity, it is Dausgaard who sees the work through to a joyous culmination shot-through with defiance.
Summing up, this is an auspicious start to a welcome series as looks certain to bring the best out of this partnership. The sound has no lack of focus or immediacy, if without the depth of perspective or acoustic definition as found on those Kocsis SACDs, which also feature more extensive and detailed annotations. A future volume will likely include the Scherzo that was all the 21-year-old Bartók orchestrated from his only designated symphony, of which a full realization by Denijs Dille can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rChTn4hiplw.
More information – https://onyxclassics.com/release/bartok-suite-no-1-concerto-for-orchestra/