György Lehel / Yevgeny Mravinsky

Bartók: Musique pour cordes, percussion et célesta; Concerto pour orchestra

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Evgeny Mravinsky's live recording of Bartók's eternally creepy Music for strings, percussion and celesta from May 24, 1967, with the Leningrad Philharmonic is not quite as well played as his studio recording with the same orchestra from 1965. Because they were performing live and not in a studio, there is some less than unbearably tight ensemble playing in the excruciatingly difficult unison passages in the Allegro, and the cellos come in a fraction of a beat early in the climactic coda of the closing Allegro molto. But the intensity that Mravinsky pulls out of the Leningrad's strings is as overwhelming as ever and maybe a little bit more. Even in comparison with the painfully precise Reiner-Chicago recording from 1958, Mravinsky and the Leningrad live is still tighter, tougher, and much scarier than anybody else.

The same cannot be said of Gyorgy Lehel's live recording of Bartók's Concerto for orchestra from December 12, 1979, with the Czech Philharmonic. The Czechs play with customary suaveness and ardent lyricism, but Lehel doesn't do much except stand in front of them. In a work designed to show off the virtuosity of the orchestra, the Czechs are willing but Lehel is weak. The opening Allegro vivace lacks energy and the closing Presto lacks drive and the middle movements have less weight than intermezzos and divertimentos. There are dozens of better recordings of Bartók's orchestral masterpiece, including the brilliant and propulsive Reiner-Chicago from 1955, which is usually coupled with their Music for strings, percussion and celesta. Praga's remastered sound is plain but honest.

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