Sensational Bartók from Mälkki/Helsinki on BIS

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

There hasn’t been a coupling of these two iconic works this successful in, well, decades. Usually the pieces get divided between different performers, or if it’s the same forces throughout, one work comes off better than the other. Not here. Start with the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. No one (except possibly Reiner) attempts to play it at Bartók’s indicated timings–around six+ minutes per movement. Everyone is slower, and often rightly so, but sometimes rather too much slower. Mälkki sounds just about perfect: in the range of seven minutes per movement, with an eerily flowing opening fugue, a ferocious second movement Allegro, a terrifying Adagio (listen to those timpani glissandos at the bottom of the texture), and a finale that features an imaginative and characterful flexibility of tempo, highlighting its dance-like character. The Helsinki strings play with extraordinary discipline, even if some of the “special effects” such as col legno bowing could resister more strongly. Never mind. It’s a great performance.

So is that of the Concerto for Orchestra. Perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that it sounds like a genuine collaborative effort between conductor and orchestra. Mälkki keeps the music flowing, reveling in the fine ensemble that the Helsinki Philharmonic has become: the brass fugato in the first movement, the “games of pairs” in the second, or the eerie woodwind solos in the brooding Elegia–nothing here is less than world-class. In the finale, Mälkki finds an idea balance between hard-driving forward movement and precision of articulation. She also keep something especially exciting in reserve for the coda, which dashes away thrillingly. BIS has captured the entire production in powerfully present, tactile sound that really lets you hear down through the ensemble, from top to bottom. This really is an exceptional release. If you love this music, be sure to hear it.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Reiner (RCA)

    Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Concerto for Orchestra

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