Mälkki’s Excellent Bartók Continues

Review by: David Hurwitz

BartokPrince

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 10

This release actually preceded that of the recent Concerto for Orchestra and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. It’s every bit as fine. Susanna Mälkki has the Helsinki Philharmonic playing at the highest level, with plenty of character in the woodwind solos in both works (clarinet in the Mandarin Suite especially), and superb ensemble generally. She has a great ear. The Wooden Prince–a strange work that’s not quite mature Bartók–is scored for a huge orchestra used with great subtlety, and Mälkki makes sure that we hear all of the necessary detail in its natural perspective. She also “gets” the shape of the piece, one of the composer’s longest and earliest in his patented “arch” form–in other words, it falls into a series of symmetrically arranged sections that need to be well-defined so that the structure comes through the phantasmagoria of orchestral sonority. Here it does. This performance flows.

I do wish room could have been found for a complete Miraculous Mandarin, as this performance has all of the necessary darkness and violence. Of course, the fact that it only lasts about twenty minutes in suite form and ends with a bang accounts in some degree for its greater popularity–that and the sleazy plot line, with its three thugs forcing a prostitute to lure unsuspecting men into their lair. I like the hallucinatory quality that Mälkki captures in the work’s early moments, building to a super-intense outpouring of total hysteria at the end. The infamous “chase fugue” is particularly clearly voiced, and the textural transparency only adds to the excitement. It also goes without saying that BIS’s SACD sonics are first class. In short, a terrific release from start to (brutal) finish.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Prince: Boulez (Sony)

  • BARTÓK, BELA:
    The Wooden Prince (complete); The Miraculous Mandarin (suite)

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