Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra; Martinu: Memorial to Lidice; Klein: Partita for Strings

Philadelphia Orchestra

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Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra; Martinu: Memorial to Lidice; Klein: Partita for Strings Review

by James Leonard

When Leopold Stokowski had the Philadelphia Orchestra (1912-1939), they recorded for RCA in the U.S. When Eugene Ormandy had the Philadelphia (1939-1977), they recorded for CBS. When Riccardo Muti (1980-1993) and Wolfgang Sawallisch (1993-2003) had the Philadelphia, they recorded for EMI in England. With Christoph Eschenbach in charge of the Philadelphia (2003-?), who do you think they record for? Not an American label, not an English label, not a German label, and not a French label -- no, Eschenbach and the Philadelphia record for Finnish label Ondine.

That's all right. Ondine is a fine label with warm sound and worldwide distribution and Eschenbach and the Philadelphia are much better served than the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra, all of which at the time were working without recording contracts. Besides, the most important thing, the quality of the music-making, is still first-rate. True, Eschenbach's Philadelphia sounds nothing like Sawallisch or Muti's, much less Ormandy or Stokowski's Philadelphia: it sounds clean, lean, and colorful. And true, Eschenbach sounds like none of his predecessors: he sounds muscular, modernist, and much, much edgier.

That's all right, too. In these superbly recorded, superbly played, and superbly conducted performances of three mid-twentieth century masterpieces by Martinu, Klein, and Bartók, Eschenbach and the Philadelphia sound like a world-class conductor and orchestra at the peak of their form -- brilliantly played, commandingly conducted, deeply felt, and profoundly musical. Anyone who loves great orchestral music will love this disc.

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