Three Hungarian Suites

0 of 5 stars

The Miraculous Mandarin – Suite
Suite in F sharp minor, Op.19
Hary János – Suite

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin

Recorded in 1992-93 in Powell Symphony Hall, St Louis, Missouri

Reviewed by: Greg Harvey

Reviewed: October 2007
AAM 070106
Duration: 73 minutes

Anyone who keenly followed Leonard Slatkin and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra’s series of recordings for RCA (Brahms, Tchaikovsky, much Americana, and whole lot more) is one down on the deal. The recording reviewed here was never issued – not even the conductor knows why, he says, in his short introduction in the booklet, otherwise filled with notes on the music, remembrances of the now-deceased Joanna Nickrenz and William Hoekstra (respectively the producer and engineer of this album) and, a nice touch, the listing of SLSO personnel for the 1992-93 Season as well as a photograph of the orchestra in Powell Symphony Hall. Slatkin’s tenure as music director was indeed a “golden age” of the St Louis Orchestra’s history – and it’s good to have a further reminder of it: not just in the warmth and vitality of the playing but in the unexpected choice of repertoire.

I have heard Ernö (Ernst von) Dohnányi’s Suite somewhere before – nice piece, I thought, quite Brahmsian – and it sounds terrific here, introduced by wonderfully coloured woodwinds and silvery strings. The Variations of this first movement are intriguingly contrasted, energetic and full of good things whether in broad appealing melodies or deft scoring – which Slatkin and his orchestra tap into with relish and appreciation. The Suite’s scherzo comes next, a mix of dance and song (in that order), followed by a charming ‘Romanza’, quite exotic, with a finale that is a rumbustious pay-off, a rhythmic, melodic and colourful delight. Beautifully played by all concern, attentive and spirited, this work is a real discovery and is given 5-star treatment.

The Kodály and Bartók pieces are better known and turn up more-often in concerts and on recordings. The six movements of the Suite that Kodály extracted from his fantasy opera are always a pleasure and are finely done here, Slatkin bringing out the ‘Hungarian’ elements of the opening section – such placing is exacting without suppressing the music’s whimsy – and enjoys the bright colours of the ‘Viennese Musical Clock’ as much as the soulful cello solo that introduces ‘Song’, which other orchestra soloists are also sensitive to. There’s also a wit and swagger to this music that is fully exploited here and the specific timbre of the Hungarian cimbalom is another delight.

The Bartók isn’t entirely new, for Slatkin’s complete RCA recording of The Miraculous Mandarin has been re-jigged into Suite form (which, by the way, Kodály conducted the premiere of). This ‘dangerous’ score is given full vent, and is also considered, and leads to a thrillingly fast, hair-raising account of the final scene (as far as the Suite is concerned).

For the Dohnányi alone this ‘rescued’ recording is recommended – and is in excellent sound – and which can be obtained directly through AAM recordings.

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