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Music For Strings, Percussion And Celesta (Harnoncourt, Coe)

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1. Andante tranquillio
2. Allegro
3. Adagio
4. Allegro Molto
5. 1. Allegro Ma Non Troppo
6. 2. Molto Adagio
7. 3. Allegro Assai

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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
new views on these great works 11 May 2004
By andrew john raiskums - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
OK, Harnoncourt took his time to get round to recording Bartok but for me the results have been well worth it.

Getting my score out I notice that Harnoncourt's tempi are on the slow side but should this really be an issue when composers regularly mistime their own music? (One thinks of Webern writing of his Piano Variations Op.27 as being a '20-minute suite': most pianists get through them in six minutes or so) And besides, Bartok's metronome markings are often quite flexible so I don't think slow tempi really needs to be an issue. It's the finer musical details that mark a performance and this one has them in spades.

I liked Harnoncourt's way of shaping the fugal entries in the first movement- so much more interesting than the usual monochrome approach from other conductors. It's really pianissimo as well- listen to how much of a change in sonority there is when the strings finally take their mutes off. The climax is beautifully shaped and registers in all its urgency with a great thwack on the bass drum. (not just a dull thud as in other recordings) The second movement is a revelation in terms of the scrupulousness of Harnoncourt's approach to Bartok's details of articulation, dynamic and tempo. So many of the phrasings (eg around bar 360) sound so new- but there they are in the score. Harnoncourt's ear for colour is also a delight here- listen to the great passage around bar 190- with the two sound groupings (harp & second group of strings, piano & xylophone & first group) strikingly juxtaposed. The coda is fantastic and the CEO play like demons.

The slow movement again reveals a great ear for colour- one of the best things about this new recording is that Harnoncourt lets every instrument 'speak'- he never lets the music sound as though it's scored for two string orchestras plus a few added bits. It must be said the pianist in this recording does a marvellous job with Bartok's many different indications of attack and colour. Also, has anyone ever noticed those sforzati in the harp part before at letter D? Maybe there is a little lack of mystery overall in this movement but perhaps this has something to do with the performance being taped live.

The last movement is a corker (and right on tempo) but I have two niggles. Why the arpeggiations in the harp part at letter D when none are marked? And what's with the massive rall three bars before the end? (it would seem Harnoncourt has chosen to ignore the 'a tempo allargando' marking here) Nonetheless, this is a great reading of Bartok's masterpiece and the care that Harnoncourt lavishes on it makes the whole score gleam like new.

The Divertimento is a terrific performance too. I note that Harnoncourt is slower than most in the central movement- but- the score again- the tempo marking is molto adagio. So it's not really out of character. Again, the playing of the CEO is beyond reproach.

I thoroughly enjoyed this disc and don't know why some reviews have been negative about the performances. I found them gritty, virtuosic, atmospheric and moving. Hear them and make up your own minds.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Excellent--going his own way works 29 Sep 2005
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
There are already quite a few great recordings of Bartok's masterpiece, the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, fewer of the Divertimento, a masterpiece written on a smaller, simpler scale (but still thorny if you expect "divertimento" to connote Mozartean vivacity and charm). I own completely satisfying readings of the MFSPC by Reiner, Bernstein, and Levine. But Harnoncourt has carved out a special place beside these greats.

He takes very slow tempi in every movement compared to Reiner, but especially in the first--9:10 for Harnoncourt, 7:00 for Reiner. The effect of this slowing down is mesmerizing; you are forced to listen to the inner working of Bartok's complex rhythms as never before. Baartok was wriing is own version of counterpoint, and here his peculiar genius emerges with great freshness and freedom. The orchestra plays beautifully for him, and the sound from RCA/BMG is splendid.

I think this is a great addition to the Bartok catalog. Five stars.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
priceless individuality 9 July 2006
By Tihai - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
It is worth rushing out to buy this CD simply for the recording of the DIVERTIMENTO alone. Harnoncourt's interpretation is so saturated with insight that this is not only the best recording of this work currently available, but arguably some of the best Bartok performance you will find on record. Since the composer's music is often so technically difficult, it is frequently rehearsed only just beyond the point at which these difficulties have been surpassed, and where that dose of extra energy will be enough to justify a 'fine' recording. I offer, as an example, Charles Dutoit's recording with the OSM, which is excellent in that every detail is in place. But compare it to this recording and you will realise that there is an added dimension of interpretative insight that separates them.

With the virtuosity of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe taken for granted, Harnoncourt shows us that he has considered and imagined every scene in this remarkable little drama; characterising every motif, crafting every texture, conjuring up new colours, and breathing into every phrase a highly personal rubato. This is music-making that has certainly raised the ceiling of Bartok performance.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Harnoncourt ruins the ending of a great piece 29 May 2010
By T. Brittain - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The performance of "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta" is excellent EXCEPT for the last 2 measures of the whole piece! Why oh why did he ignore the very clear markings and make what another reviewer called "a massive rall" (slow down) right where the energy calls us to hurry to the final chords? I thought something had gone wrong with the CD when I first heard it.

I consulted the score and, sure enough, NOT what's called for. What did he do, pause to scratch his nose before continuing? TOO BAD. I find this unforgivable and would not recommend this recording because of it. In fact, I find it down-right mean-spirited; as if Harnoncourt quite dislikes Bartók. Reminds me of the flaccid recording from Bernstein. As if they were both trying to find a way to make it their own (i.e., ego tripping), but artificially.

No one has surpassed the Fritz Reiner recording. If someone can suggest another, PLEASE let me know.

That said, the "Divertimento" is excellent.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful Bartok 12 July 2010
By Reid Branson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
An absolutely fabulous piece of music with which I was not previously familiar. Having never heard it before, it is difficult for me to compare this version with others, but my temptation is to label it as just a bit stiff in execution. This is a minor quibble, though, as overall Harnoncourt's conducting is flawless and measured. I highly recommend this recording.
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