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Two more historically important recordings in this invaluable series of Ancerl's work,
This review is from: Karel Ancerl Gold Edition Vol.26. Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra; Viola Concerto (Audio CD)
This disc re-couples two recordings, the Concerto for Orchestra from 1963 and the viola concerto from 1961. Both have been effectively remastered if my memory of the original LP version of the Concerto for Orchestra serves me correctly. The viola concerto recording is new to me. Both of these recordings preserve historic readings that are very important in the way they illustrate the Slavonic range of sounds that the composer probably had in mind.
The Concerto for Orchestra is radically different from any other version that I know. Ancerl delivers a typical reading of this work with his customary tight grasp of rhythm coupled with a very clear sense of the dance. He also emphasised the lyrical side of the works he conducted and that makes an interesting and distinctive combination. Ancerl would never be prepared to sacrifice clarity of articulation on the altar of speed. This need for clarity of articulation was probably instilled in him when he underwent training as a percussionist. Consequently that clarity supports to a considerable degree the very obvious dance and folk elements of this work. On top of that his emphasis of the lyrical nature of the work further underlines that link between Bartok, the composition and the composer's life-long interest in folk music. By this late stage in his career the folk element had been completely assimilated into the creative process.
These considerations completely inform this performance and give it a uniquely authentic feel. The sense of dramatic drive at all costs as per Solti in either of his recordings, but especially the later one, is replaced with quite a different approach which also allows for a gentle humour, a response alien to Solti's view which is more biting and sarcastic as in the intermezzo interrotto for example. The central Elegia is here portrayed as a touching memorial to Koussevitzky's recently deceased wife at the time of the first performance. The dedication of the work reads 'Written for the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in memory of Mrs. Natalie Koussevitzky.' That tenderness is too often missing in other readings. The outer movements are taken at a tempo that allows for precise and unhurried articulation of the fugal passages. This actually adds to their impressiveness as a performance by this orchestra. The uniquely rustic woodwind timbres of the Slavonic trained section makes a clear impact on the second 'pairs' movement.
The viola concerto features a specialist player rather than a violinist doubling as viola player. This makes quite a difference to the tonal qualities of the playing which is more astringent and less mellifluous. The first two movements bring out more of the reflective elements of the work but the last movement is taken at considerable speed which underlines the whirling folk dance nature of the music. This will come as something of a complete revelation to anyone used to the more sedate tempo adopted by Menuhin in this movement, even if Dorati, his conductor, was Hungarian. This is an exhilarating conclusion to the work which more than makes amends for the rather too close balance of the soloist which inevitably obscures some of the dialogue of the first two movements.
This is an important historical document as it preserves the very special Slavonic sound of this orchestra at that time. Those sounds have largely been lost as a result of increasing internationalism of orchestras. This is a world-wide issue and discs such as this are a social record as well as a musical one.
This joins other important recordings of the Concerto for Orchestra such as those by Reiner, Solti and, more recently, Fischer. However, I would suggest that this remains an important release on a number of points as outlined above. As such it makes an attractive purchase option to seriously consider along with others of this calibre.