Stanislaw Skrowaczewski

Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta

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Since the appearance of the compact disc, Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra and his Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta have frequently been paired, perhaps most obviously because they make an enjoyable program of a suitable album length, but also because they are the two works in his oeuvre that most closely resemble symphonies, a form the composer never touched, save for an unfinished early Symphony in E flat major. The Concerto for Orchestra is really a five-movement symphony in arch-form, though it contains so much virtuoso writing to highlight every instrument in the orchestra that the term "Concerto for Orchestra" was deemed most appropriate by Bartók. The Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is structured more closely to the four-movement Classical form, though again Bartók avoided naming it a symphony, perhaps to avoid limiting comparisons, and chose instead the abstract title it bears. Whatever his reasons were for denying them the designation of symphony, many listeners are drawn to these works because of their formal beauty and coherent structure, and the highly personal statements Bartók made in them are as profound as any of the greatest symphonies. In these performances, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Minnesota Symphony present both masterpieces with proper gravitas and power, and the sound of these recordings from 1977-1978 is remarkably clear, deep, and spacious, giving the performances terrific presence with only the slightest amount of tape hiss. While these performances don't quite rise to the level of the landmark recordings by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which are really the first that ought to be heard, they are of superb quality in technique and expression, and this album certainly deserves attentive listening.

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