Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Béla Bartók - Concerto for Orchestra - The Miraculous Mandarin (Suite) - Two Pictures - Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy

This classic 1963 recording is one of my favorite accounts of the "Concerto for Orchestra". The Concerto for Orchestra was an Ormandy specialty; he was Hungarian-born, and had long been an advocate for Bartok's music, for example, conducting the world premiere of the Third Piano Concerto with soloist György Sándor, and its first recording, both in 1946.

At the time of writing his Concerto for Orchestra Bartók was in a bad shape physically, emotionally and professionally. Distressed over his beloved Hungary’s capitulation to the Nazis, he had emigrated to New York in 1940, leaving behind the royalties and colleagues who had provided his financial and professional support. He considered himself an exile in an alien land and ached to return home. It was at this nadir of his life that two compatriots, violinist Josef Szigeti and conductor Fritz Reiner, seized upon the ideal vehicle for Bartók’s recovery, organising a commission for a major work for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. When its conductor Serge Koussevitzky arrived at the hospital with a substantial down-payment, the effect was astounding. Bartók immediately rallied, left for a retreat in upstate New York and within seven weeks had finished the piece, orchestrating the score that winter.

At the world premiere by the Boston Symphony in December 1944, the Concerto for Orchestra was an immediate success with critics and public alike. It drew attention to the other works of the then neglected composer. Soon more commissions arrived and re-invigorated he commenced work on his new projects. Sadly, his fragile health again failed and he died the following September, leaving the Concerto for Orchestra as his testament.

The highly notorious pantomime-ballet "The Miraculous Mandarin", was composed in 1918, when Bartók was 36 years old. The rich and turbulent score demonstrates Bartók’s very personal musical vocabulary and marked an unsettled and exploratory stage in his development as a composer. The work is best known as an Orchestral Suite, in six continuous sections, made up primarily from the first two-thirds of the score.
Bartók completed the "Two Pictures" in August 1910. The first performance was given on February 25, 1913, in Budapest. The score calls for three flutes and piccolo, two oboes and english horn, three 
clarinets and bass clarinet, three bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three 
trombones and tuba, timpani, bells, cymbals, bass drum, celesta, two harps, and strings. "In Full Flower", the first of the Two Pictures, is 
perhaps the most obvious product of his early obsession (especially after a trip to Paris) with Debussy’s language. In addition to his use of the whole-tone scale, the most outward sign of Debussy’s influence, Bartók’s way with gesture and color shows how he had begun to absorb, rather than borrow, the essence of his French colleague’s music.  In Full Flower gives way to the strong rhythms of the 'Village Dance"- music of 'air and light' followed by 'music of the earth'. Although the melody and some of the harmonic language of the first picture are kept alive in the second, the "Village Dance", with its sharply defined rhythmic profile and obvious affection for folk music, is a Bartok signature. Enjoy 



Anonymous said...

Great and historic! The sound is also very good. Concerto is perfect, as you say. Thanks!!

Tzadik said...

Anon I have to agree with you agreeing with me ;)
Your'e welcome friend