Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati, Rafael Kubelik
Mercury 434 397-2
Shadowy high-risers at dusk, thugs lurking on street corners, prostitutes, pimps and victimised innocents all have their place in Bartok's barbed but beautiful Miraculous Mandarin. The story concerns a captured girl who lures a Mandarin to his death but partially redeems herself by accepting his dying embrace.
The ballet suite stops short after the murderous chase, but if you're willing to pass on the denouement, then Antal Dorati's 1954 Mercury classic packs more atmosphere and nervous energy into a single minute than most other recordings manage for the whole ballet. Dorati's Mandarin is a miracle of precision - brutal where the action is, but darkly seductive among the sleazy decoy games. Sound-wise, everything is right: slyly wriggling clarinet solos, ice-cold strings, biting brass and bullying percussion.
And then there's the rest of the disc, with Dorati again at the helm for Kodaly's skilful variations on the most famous Hungarian folksong. Prior to Dorati's sessions, Rafael Kubelik had directed a boisterous though genial account of Hindemith's clumsily titled Symphonic Metamorphoses of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber in truly fabulous mono sound (the jazzy second movement parades a near-digital roster of dynamics), with Schoenberg's cinematic Five Pieces for company. Try the fourth of them, "Peripetie" (track 8), which, for a few seconds, sounds like a frame's worth of music from a Fifties Pinewood B-movie. It always makes me laugh, which is just as well, after the Mandarin's battering.
Rob CowanReuse content