Ákos Hernádi

Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin; Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion

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Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin; Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion Review

by Blair Sanderson

One of Béla Bartók's most dazzling works, The Miraculous Mandarin is less convincing in the composer's arrangement for two pianos than it is in its original orchestral version. This ballet's effectiveness lies in the moodiness of the orchestration and the fantastic combinations of timbres that make it so violently colorful and evocative. The two-piano format still shows the brilliance of Bartók's composition, albeit somewhat abstractly, and demonstrates his skill in making The Miraculous Mandarin's myriad notes lie under 20 fingers. But without the resources of the full orchestra, climaxes seem weaker, dissonances more abrasive, complex rhythms more cumbersome, and textures more tangled and confused, especially in the densest passages where the pianos' monochromaticism does little to differentiate parts. These disadvantages are mitigated somewhat in this faithful performance by Ákos Hernádi and Károly Mocsári, who play with sensitivity and awareness of the orchestral effects Bartók attempted to translate to the keyboard. Yet all through their performance, the two-piano version seems pale and inadequate, and the superiority of the orchestral original is apparent at every turn. Even so, this transcription has a practical value because it can conveniently be programmed with the Sonata for two pianos and percussion, a work Bartók composed in 1937 for himself and his wife Ditta Pasztory. This is a virtuoso vehicle that works from beginning to end because it was intended for these instruments, and as played by Hernádi, Mocsári, and percussionists Franz Lang and Jochen Schorer, all the effects are executed with great precision and maximum force. Haenssler's reproduction is clear and vivid, which aids both performances, but especially gives The Miraculous Mandarin the separation and concentrated sound it needs to be coherent.

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