Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Concerto for Orchestra, The Miraculous Mandarin (suite)
Kyoto Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Mund
Arte Nova 74321 77064-2 [57:33]
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Even at super-budget price this CD is not really competitive. Uwe Mund is a sixty year old Austrian who, from the list of engagements listed in the short biography printed in the booklet, has clearly had a great deal of experience conducting orchestras throughout the world, for the last thirteen years holding the post of conductor-in-chief of the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra. On the evidence of this recording his players have yet to grasp the necessary performing style to bring off a truly convincing performance of twentieth century central European orchestral music.

Bartók intended his Concerto to show off the orchestra, both as a whole unit and also section by section. Unless an orchestra equals the sheer commitment demanded of the soloist in a 'regular' concerto, it is unlikely to succeed in this colourful, witty and dramatic music. The Kyoto players were perhaps not made aware of this necessity. Their playing on this disc would be more suited to Wagner or Brahms, although one suspects that this is the likely default style of any orchestra giving what we have here - a basic run through.

The first movement is rather ponderous and some of the tutti entries are far from together. The music is skated over and lacks any of the necessary Bartókian flavour. The playing is neat and conscientious, but altogether too safe. The same applies to the Gioca delle Coppie second movement where wit is sacrificed to accuracy. The gentler music of the Elegia suits the Kyoto players better, but whilst a decent attempt at irony is clearly made in the 'Interrupted Intermezzo', all the dramatic music of the last two movements fails to excite.

The booklet is honest enough to admit that Bartók's suite from his ballet The Miraculous Mandarin cuts the music off well before the end. Indeed the final chords from the 'chase' which ends the suite always sound as if more music must surely follow, leaving a slight sense of disappointment when none transpires. The packaging does not tell the prospective purchaser whether this is the complete ballet or just the suite (unlike, for example, Simon Rattle's identical coupling on EMI). The lack of reference to a chorus should give the game away to knowledgeable collectors, but others may well be led into believing that it's the complete ballet on offer here.

Most orchestras rise to the adrenalin filled and super-dramatic music of The Miraculous Mandarin and the Kyoto Symphony is no exception. This is a much better performance although whether it comes anywhere close to Dorati's superb rendition on a mid price Mercury CD remains extremely doubtful.

If this coupling is especially needed at budget price, then the Virgin Classics double CD from Iwaki and the Melbourne Symphony (coupled with Stravinsky's Agon and Petrushka) can be given a guarded recommendation, particularly as the Miraculous Mandarin is performed complete.

But for a real 'straight to the gut' experience in the Concerto For Orchestra, Reiner's classic Chicago reading on a mid price RCA disc can hardly be bettered.


Simon Foster

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