Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies



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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In 1943, Bela Bartok’s finances were a wreck and his health was failing fast due to complications from leukemia.  And yet the ailing composer still had one, final masterpiece to create.  Thanks to a 1,000 dollar grant from Serge Koussevitzky the creative spark was renewed in Bartok and, for a short time at least, his health was boosted.  Martin Bookspan calls Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, “a genuine classic of symphonic literature, an acknowledged masterpiece with a secure and lasting place in the international concert repertoire.”

Bookspan’s favorite recordings of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra include those made by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (Sony Records CD #60730) and by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (RCA Victor Living Stereo CD #61504).  Both fine performances are currently available.  For a modern recording I can highly recommend the 2012 release from Marin Alsop and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Naxos Records CD #8572486).

Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies are among the most popular and most recognizable examples of orchestral classical music. Countless scholarly volumes have been written about this cornerstone of symphonic literature.  But as is often the case with truly great works of art you need no special knowledge or understanding to appreciate and joyfully experience the symphonies of Beethoven.

Rather than suggesting recordings of the complete cycle of nine symphonies, Martin Bookspan provides recommendations from various conductors and ensembles for each of the Beethoven symphonies.  Bookspan is, however, relatively consistent in his admiration of those performances conducted by George Szell (Sony Records CD #92480), Ernest Ansermet (London/Decca Eloquence Records, split between three import releases, CD #4800391 , #4800394, and  #4800397), and Arturo Toscanini (MONO sound, Music & Arts Records CD #1275).

My favorites of the recent recordings of the complete Beethoven symphonies include those by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra (Bis Records CD #1825/6) Charles Mackerras and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (Classics For Pleasure CD #75751) and Riccardo Chailly with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (London/Decca Records CD #4782721).

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