Seiji Ozawa / Saito Kinen Orchestra

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

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This 2005 hybrid SACD of Béla Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz. 106, and the Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116, is remarkable for its up-close multichannel recording and glorious sonorities, but it is truly extraordinary for its stunning musicality and powerful depth of expression. Seiji Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra are in rare form in both works, and this famously exacting conductor draws out vividly detailed performances that can be compared in all fairness with the legendary renditions by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In this terrific live recording of Music, one is reminded at every bar of all the meticulous details and magical timbres Reiner achieved in his 1958 RCA recording; and Ozawa's pacing and articulation in the Concerto for Orchestra are quite similar to Reiner's 1955 recording. But more importantly, what both Reiner and Ozawa produced in their respective recordings -- overlooking the 50 years of recording advances between them -- is a special kind of vitality that transcends technique, and a freshness that feels authentic and faithful to Bartók's idiom. In Reiner's case, his close personal friendship with the composer accounts for his inspired interpretations and exceptional precision. In Ozawa's, perhaps only a lifetime of conducting the modern repertoire and familiarity with Bartók's work can explain the nearly ideal quality of these performances; but that is sufficient. So if one needs classic readings of these pieces, Reiner's are to be preferred; but Ozawa's disc is such a close contender, it is a more than reasonable second choice. Audiophiles, though, will enjoy this package more, because it has incredibly lifelike surround sound.

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