A Charismatic Bartók-Surprise From Munich

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

After years of wondering why they weren’t asked to do loads of recordings for all the major labels, and still not being satisfied when Christian Thielemann had brought Deutsche Grammophon to the table (for a while), the Munich Philharmonic faced the music (i.e., total lack of interest) and simply founded its own label on which the orchestra now churns out Valery Gergiev’s tepid exploration of Bruckner and other warhorses. That’s why this release is such a surprise: One simply doesn’t expect to encounter that orchestra on a release from a mid-major label–certainly not Harmonia Mundi. That is, until we remember that Pablo Heras-Casado is very much a Harmonia Mundi artist. He happens to conduct a good deal in Munich, and the orchestra rode onto the bill on his coattails.

Now for the–perhaps–second surprise: This is a really good recording. Even acknowledging that there is nothing like the Munich Philharmonic at its (very) rare best, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra might not seem an obvious fit for a band better known to have a rounded, glowing bronze sound than for having the dry-cut, razor-sharp attacks that presumably benefit this work. Indeed, we don’t get dry-cut, razor-sharp attacks here. This is not a not a knuckle-breaking, ball-busting performance. Instead what we get from the “Phillies” and Heras-Casado is a seductive and charismatic Concerto for Orchestra: a soft-edged, warm and romantic reading with superb contributions from the brass. The coloring is downright French in the Finale.

Much the same is true for the Third Piano Concerto with Javier Perianes. As Bartók’s most lyrical of the three concertos (written for his wife, it was meant to take a gentler line than the first two), this approach–over a more percussive one–really pays dividends. The orchestra supports him with genuinely soft playing when necessary and the finale is still zaftig and brawny. Heras-Casado handles the large, traditional Munich Philharmonic just as deftly as the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, with which he has done most of his recent recordings.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Concerto for Orchestra: Reiner (RCA); Kubelik (DG), Piano Concerto: Fischer/Schiff (Teldec/Warner); Fischer/Kocis (Philips/Decca)

  • Javier Perianes (piano)
  • Munich Philharmonic, Pablo Heras-Casado

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