Edward Gardner's 2013 Chandos album of orchestral works by Béla Bartók is a tour de force, displaying some of the most brilliant music written in the early 20th century. The suite from The Miraculous Mandarin is a true showpiece for orchestra, because its incisive rhythms and plangent tone colors are wonderfully varied, and the searing passagework is highly virtuosic and viscerally exciting. On the richer and somewhat gentler side, the Four Orchestral Pieces is an atmospheric set strongly influenced by Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy, and Bartók's orchestration is lush and vibrantly colorful. The high point of the program is the Music for strings, percussion, and celesta, a mature masterpiece that showcases Bartók's many innovations in extended string techniques and offers some of his most memorable and influential effects. Gardner conducts the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with vigor and attention to detail, and his musicians respond with extraordinary vitality and deliver a marvelous sonic feast. Recorded in multichannel sound and presented in the hybrid SACD format, this program is an excellent introduction to Bartók's orchestral works, both for newcomers and seasoned audiophiles.
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