The sheer intensity of expression reached incandescence with the return during the closing pages of the work's opening proposition and it brought the evening to an exhilarating conclusion.
From the very outset this was an interpretation to cherish, both for its clarity of line and texture and its passionate unfolding. The care that Bartok took in laying out the score antiphonally, placing his two string sections and percussion instruments so as to articulate form and texture spatially, drew a meticulous response. The movement of ideas around the various sections can rarely have been so well defined, and Bartok's rich amalgamation of polyphony, nocturnal impressionism and joyous dance music was superbly fused into a single impulse.
If this was the performance of the evening, it was preceded by two that were hardly less fine in conception and execution. Opening with the Dance Suite, conductor and orchestra responded eagerly to the apparently improvisatory impulse that characterises the wide-ranging sequence of ideas, maintaining at the same time a tight control over the symphonic structure that underpins them.
The darker-toned and more densely textured items need quite careful handling and Sir Georg made sure that such music generated a glittering impetus. In contrast, the airy lyricism of the "ritornello" stole magically upon the senses, and its discreet romanticism seemed a thing of heartbreaking innocence.
Bartok's complex re-creation of dance styles from a range of countries and his daring feat of integrating them in the final section constitutes one of his most masterly compositional achievements and Sir Georg and the orchestra encompassed it superbly.
Next there was a magisterial performance of the Second Violin Concerto, in which one of its most noted exponents, Kyung-Wha Chung, combined technique and insight to formidable effect. Making light of the concerto's teaming difficulties, she entered its world of pristine lyricism and sometimes savage energy with passionate conviction.
Bartok was unable to be present at the premiere of his concerto in 1939 and in fact did not hear the work until it was performed over four years later in the USA. He wrote at that time that he was happy nothing needed changing in the scoring, yet there are problematic moments, and on this occasion the balance between soloist and orchestra was not always ideal.
The spectacular final bars - which Bartok composed as a virtuoso alternative to the purely orchestral end he originally envisaged - did not have their intended effect, for instance, but for the most part this was a colourful and powerfully expressive performance.
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