Jonathan Pasternack / London Symphony Orchestra

Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin Suite; Brahms: Symphony No. 1

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The pairing of the concert suite from Béla Bartók's ballet The Miraculous Mandarin and Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor is an unusual match-up, for there is nothing obvious in the music that connects these works. One might suppose that their contrasts of periods, genres, methods, styles, and other characteristics are stark enough to draw many listeners for different reasons, and that the program was perhaps designed to broaden the appeal of this CD. Certainly, the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Jonathan Pasternack turn in exciting performances of both masterpieces, and the rhythmic vitality and sharp colors of The Miraculous Mandarin prepare one to listen for all the syncopations and exceptional timbres in the symphony. In the end, however, the real unifying element of this disc is the reproduction, since both sessions were digitally recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 2008 with Sennheiser and Neumann microphones. The extremely sensitive equipment lends a special depth to the sonic dimensions and highlights details in the playing that one might expect of direct stream digital, multichannel, and super audio recordings. Oddly enough, the sound of the Bartók still differs in its qualities from the Brahms, for its expressive temperature is cooler and harsher, its orchestration is leaner, and its textures are more abrasive, whereas the Brahms is quite warm and rich, thanks to its vibrant bass sound. Enthusiasts for The Miraculous Mandarin should eventually acquire a recording of the complete ballet, and admirers of the symphony will likely own classic renditions, so the best reason to check out this album is for its audio.

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