Amsterdam Sinfonietta’s Partially Persuasive Bartók and Brahms

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 9

After a number of well-executed renditions of Shostakovich string quartets by Candida Thompson and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, this Bartók Divertimento strangely disappoints. The normally arresting first-movement opening, with its stirring rhythmic chugging, comes across as too gentle, and portends more frustration to come. In string orchestra arrangements of chamber works, gains in body and textural richness are often offset by a noticeable loss incisiveness of attack and rhythm. But Bartók’s Divertimento was originally composed for string orchestra, so that shouldn’t be an issue in this case. Yet still, we get plush string textures and soft-edged attacks that make dance rhythms go flat in the first movement and finale, and render the normally pensive slow movement dramatically inert. In contrast, Boulez’s taut and tense way with this music makes it sound almost like another piece entirely. Ditto for Dorati and even Iona Brown, who even with a highly reverberant Chandos recording still conveys the music’s grit.

Interestingly, the Brahms Quintet in G, which is a blow-up of an original chamber piece, fares far better. Thompson’s reading engages right from the start, with the imposing first-movement opening sounding even more majestic in this arrangement, where the multiple double-basses contribute a satisfying solid underpinning to Brahms’ sonic texture. Although I still retain a preference for the leaner and more sinewy texture and timbres Brahms intended (especially in the scherzo and finale), this fleshed-out arrangement makes for a fine alternative way to hear this music. In a bonus track, the Amsterdam players take another go at the Finale’s conclusion, this time with rollicking whoops and claps to heighten the music’s festive spirit.

A half-compelling disc, then–in excellent sound.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bartók: Boulez (DG); Dorati (Mercury)

    Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Candida Thompson

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