Baltimore Symphony Orchestra / Marin Alsop BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra - Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta

Almost from its inception, and into the 1980s, Bartók's Concerto for orchestra was one of the few orchestral works of the 20th century regularly programmed by major orchestras. Since the repertoire has opened up a bit, the listener of a certain age may revisit the work almost with a sense of nostalgia. In the concerto, the refugee Bartók brilliantly fused his rigorous, Hungarian-based style with the American desire for broad gestures and big tunes. One wonders whether he had heard some Copland before sitting to compose it. There's nothing to object to in this reading by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, Marin Alsop, who has turned the orchestra into a world-class instrument and has shown a real gift for addressing general musical audiences. But the recording adds little to what has already been done, and the sentiment quotient in the big tune in the fourth movement, which doesn't really resemble anything else in Bartók's output, is too low. In the Music for strings, percussion, and celesta that follows, the news is much better: the orchestra's percussion section shines in crisp, compelling solos. Credit is due above all to the celesta player, who might have merited a mention or even a name. That performance, unlike that of the Concerto for orchestra, makes the album a worthwhile addition to a Bartók collection. The orchestra sounds fine in its home base, Baltimore's Meyerhoff Hall. (James Manheim)

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