The Wooden Prince – Suite
Concerto for Orchestra
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Recorded in the Konzerthaus Freiburg on 30-31 January 2006 (Wooden Prince) and 8-14 December 2005
Reviewed by: Paul Cherry
Reviewed: March 2007
CD No: HÄNSSLER CLASSIC
Duration: 64 minutes
Michael Gielen’s wonderfully perceptive and illuminating conducting – selfless and learned – once again bestows something special onto a ‘classic’ of the repertoire.
Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, maybe his most popular work, certainly doesn’t lack for recordings; and there’s been no shortage of recent ones – from Ozawa, Oramo, Eschenbach and Paavo Järvi, for example. Gielen’s keen eye for the score’s minutiae and keen ear for balance and sonority, and long-term structure, pays many dividends in Bartók’s five-movement Concerto – the work’s musical values are unfolded with unerring judgement. There’s no lack of emotion or expression, either (the central ‘Elegia’ is alternately spectral, impassioned and doom-laden) – but nothing is drawn to attention to for its own sake: everything has a place in the argument and development of the music’s progress.
Gielen’s plain speaking does not appeal to everyone, but his lack of showmanship and his pure-music values are deeply satisfying and often very revealing of what a composer wrote – and why. (It should be remembered that Gielen is also a composer.) Certainly with a creator as fastidious as Bartók, Gielen’s attention to notation gets into the score’s ‘inner’ life very persuasively, but without denuding sensitivity and feeling: the brass-playing in the ‘trio’ of the second movement ‘Giuoco delle Coppie’ (Game of the Couples) is warmly communicative, and how well Gielen’s deliberate tempo for the outer sections of this movement brings forth a wealth of details often overlooked. Nor is deliberation a barrier to wit or thrill – the ‘Intermezzo interrotto’ (with its trombone ‘raspberry’ to Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony) has caustic edge and the finale enjoys eager propulsion without compromising the mesh of sound that Bartók so punctiliously created.
The Wooden Prince (a shame that the ballet is in suite rather than complete form) is given a rendition in which Gielen’s lofty musical ideals never sacrifice the magic and vitality of the score. The opening glows in a way that can only take the listener into an enchanted world, one that luxuriates and pulsates and sings and dances in the most intoxicating way.
With fine studio sound complementing Gielen’s mix of ‘old school’ values and his broad-minded championing of the new (he is an indefatigable conductor of the most challenging ‘new’ music), this splendid release carries an enthusiastic recommendation.