Sponsored by the Hungarian National Foundation, this first release in Hungaroton's Bartók New Series entirely supercedes the same company's previous Bartók Complete Edition recordings from the '60s and '70s. In the earlier series' recording of the symphonic poem Kossuth, the bland György Lehel led the Budapest Symphony Orchestra in a rough performance, while in the earlier series' recording of the ballet The Wooden Prince, the mild-tempered András Kórodi led the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra in a restrained performance. In the new series' recordings, the dynamic pianist and conductor Zoltán Kocsis leads the Hungarian National Philharmonic in performances of Kossuth and The Wooden Prince that can melt speakers, circuitry, and brains. Kossuth may be musically second-hand Strauss at best, but in this performance at least, the work sounds like a passionate cri de cour of Hungarian nationalism. The Wooden Prince may not quite be in the same league as Bluebeard's Castle, the other half of its double-bill premiere, when it comes to over-the-top dramatics, but in this performance at least, it sounds big, muscular, powerful, and even at times a bit sexy. Kocsis can be evocative when the music requires it, but he is far more interested in movement, form, and tone. With the brilliant and skillful playing of the Hungarian National Philharmonic, Kocsis drives the rhythms, elucidates the forms, irradiates a huge range of colors, and makes a completely compelling case for the music -- even Kossuth. Anyone who loves the music of the greatest of the Hungarian modernists should hear this disc, especially in Hungaroton's super audio surround sound that doesn't put the Hungarian National in the room with you, it puts you in the room with the Hungarian National.
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AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|Kossuth, symphonic poem for orchestra, Sz. 21, BB 31|
|The Wooden Prince (A fából faragott királyfi), ballet in 1 act for orchestra, Sz. 60, BB 74 (Op. 13)|